Writer: Saikat Ahamed
Director: Sally Cookson
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Saikat Ahamed was born in the UK of Bangladeshi parents who moved here shortly before his birth. So much is fact. What this one-man piece, performed by the writer, seeks to do is to go behind that fact, to look at the boxes we find ourselves placed in and, maybe, to see a way of, to use an overworn cliché, thinking outside the box. The metaphor is ever present as the simple set consists of cubical wooden boxes that become chairs, steps and anything else that might be required.
Writer Ahamed, commissioned by Travelling Light Theatre Company, has produced a story of his own odyssey to become comfortable in his own skin, an odyssey that still continues. He also performs the piece, playing narrator and all the characters, including his younger selves. In a question-and-answer session after the performance, he describes part of being an actor as being chameleon-like; within the piece he seamlessly slips from character to character, allowing us, for example, to see clearly the apparently overbearing father with rigid rules about life and the belief that study is the key to success, preferably as a doctor. This is a man who feels that an appropriate Christmas present for his primary school son, a son who speaks no Bengali, is a book of Bengali poetry.
One poem, however, serves as an inspiration to Ahamed – a poem telling the story of a palm tree that longs to be free and to fly but cannot as it is rooted. In the poem, the tree can feel the wind through its leaves and imagine the sensation of flying. This image becomes a motif for the young Saikat, accurately reflecting his feelings with one foot in both camps. But we also see that same father’s vulnerability at the death of his mother in Bangladesh when the tables are briefly turned: a heart-rending moment of silence.
While Saikat’s parents are fiercely proud of their heritage, as a young boy he is desperate to blend in, to be the same as his friends at school. While at school, he emulates his friends; at home, however, he reverts to the boy struggling to live up to the expectations of his parents. And Saikat rises to the challenge, gaining a place at a prestigious local high school. But his parents are also keen that he should experience the best of English culture, like all English boys. To this end, he is sent to ballroom dance classes – a quintessentially English pastime, according to his father. The description of such an anachronistic place in which to find himself, as well as the lovely characterisation of Enid, the dance teacher, is a delight; anyone who has been a teenager will also recognise Saikat’s awkwardness around the opposite sex.
The play starts by musing about the boxes we find ourselves forced into and we do see that Ahamed, following his travels, is now more comfortable to be himself, although he accepts that sometimes he still feels categorised. This is a very personal and charming story, told by an excellent storyteller. He tells us in the question-and-answer session that all the events are essentially true. And this is maybe where the weakness lies – it is an interesting account of the events of his life, events that have shaped Ahamed the man. It touches on some raw emotions, but it lacks a dénouement. Yes, we are glad that Ahamed has found his way to thinking outside the box and the moral, to be true to oneself and not be categorised by the expectations of others is clear; but ultimately it lacks that final, killer, punch.
Runs until 28 November 2015 and on tour | Image: Contributed