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Strictly Balti – Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

Writer : Saikat Ahamed

Director : Sally Cookson

Reviewer : Joan Phillips

Saikat Ahamed’s light hearted reflections take a look at life as the child of first generation immigrants in Birmingham in the 80’s.

Mildly humorous, rather than funny, Saikat, tells a very personal story of a childhood caught between two different cultures: that of his parents’, which they brought with them from Bangladesh; and of the very Anglo-Saxon, Christian, mostly middle class, British version that surrounded him outside his home.

Ahamed’s performance is superbly acted and tenderly told. Saikat‘s recollections are all the more touching as they are so obviously personal. However, don’t come expecting any new insights into the well trodden problems of second generation immigrants, there are none. But what we do get is a version which should be easily digestible by a younger audience. Saikat’s open style, directly engaging with the audience will suit this group well. Produced by Travelling Light Theatre Company, who aim to produce theatre for the younger audience, this should be a winning combination for the right audience.

Along the way Saikat, intelligently points out that much of his confusion growing up is also a product of intergenerational expectations, teenage insecurities and that ‘playground’ isolation can be a function of children coping with anyone who is different and not just a function of race or colour. He cleverly identifies the inherent conflict in our lives of needing boxes to identify ourselves and how we then react against the constraints of the limits of any such labels. Not feeling either completely British or Bengali, Saikhat had to develop his own ‘third culture’ sense of identity.

Direction by Sally Cookson is perfectly judged. Set design by Katie Sykes and musical direction from Peter Judge is spot on. A simple set, with three boxes improvising as furniture, Grannie’s bed, the back of a car and the whole of Bangladesh or Birmingham (the same three boxes again for both) is very effective.

This production has its limits however. As Saikat points out, we so easily fall into putting people in boxes to make steering a course through a complex world easier. While he avoids making the immigrant a victim, he misses the opportunity to celebrate difference. The possibility that many people just get on with each other on equal terms without making anything, or even being aware of, differences is overlooked. And the sense of isolation of one alienated within their own family, with no race, colour or historical differences to contend with, is just as bewildering.

Be careful to read the marketing material for this production carefully. Strictly Balti certainly has merit as an engaging, intelligent and light hearted production about fitting in, growing up and getting on as a ‘third culture’ kid for a younger audience or community. But don’t be mislead – it is not a comedy night out.

Runs until 25th October 2014 | Photo: Farrows Creative

 

Writer : Saikat Ahamed Director : Sally Cookson Reviewer : Joan Phillips Saikat Ahamed’s light hearted reflections take a look at life as the child of first generation immigrants in Birmingham in the 80’s. Mildly humorous, rather than funny, Saikat, tells a very personal story of a childhood caught between two different cultures: that of his parents’, which they brought with them from Bangladesh; and of the very Anglo-Saxon, Christian, mostly middle class, British version that surrounded him outside his home. Ahamed’s performance is superbly acted and tenderly told. Saikat‘s recollections are all the more touching as they are so…

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