Originally published on A Younger Theatre
A touring co-production between Black Country Touring, Cast Doncaster, Oldham Coliseum and Southbank Centre, United Colours of FrustrAsian fuses storytelling and live music in an exploration of contemporary Asian identity. At under an hour’s running time, it is a brief snapshot of some of the relevant discussions and issues, but could do with more fleshing out to enable the show to scratch deeper under the surface of this complex topic.
The show comprises a cast of just two: Inder Goldfinger leads the storytelling and dancing – more of that later – with the talented Ezra Khan on percussion, at one end of the East-West cultural spectrum that goes from bhangra to Blondie, and from the tabla to Kaiser Chiefs. Explorations of identity are linked back through the generations, with a father recalling his move to Britain and the contradictory influences that pulled on him, as in the present he struggles with tricky relationships with his own children.
Unfortunately what could be an interesting probing of parental relationships and generational disparities descends into cliché because of the language and conceits used: the mobile phone, text and emoji-based conversations feel like they’ve been heard and retold a hundred times, and don’t shed any new light on the idea of identity or a sense of belonging, which the rest of the show seeks to investigate.
Yet there are other more notable moments in the script that go some way to rescuing it. Goldfinger delights with his sense of vocal rhythm in sections of dialogue that sit on the edge between prose and poetry. For example, his frustrated depiction of the countless factors that make a person fit in (or not) is striking: right skin, wrong God; wrong skin, right land; right skin, right country, wrong god. The list goes on.
However, overall nothing new is illuminated in these explorations and it lacks some of the nuances of modern British Asian identity that could provoke more compelling conversation. While it’s nice and neat in structure, this show needs to be drawn out further to give space to the underlying complexities that are there between the lines, but not touched on. Equally, some cast members featured in the video projection would perhaps have been better shown live. Not only is the film itself a little dark and shadowy at times, not making for the easiest viewing, but I also felt distant from the subject speaking. In the small space of the Blue Room, it seems wise to maximise the potential intimacy and personal connections, rather than create emotional distance through the digital screen.
While much of the dialogue verges on song, movement also teeters on the edge of dance in Goldfinger’s rhythmic physical interpretations. At certain points this abandons all pretensions and explodes into full-blown dance routines, in which Khan joins him. While I’m not sure exactly what they achieve – perhaps reinforcing the point that there is joy in this identity as well as problematic questions? – they certainly pleased the small audience.
All in all, this is a pleasant night’s theatre whose strength lies in its live music, but which needs some script development to uncover more about the nuanced issue it is examining.
United Colours of FrustrAsian played at the Southbank Centre until 20 May. For more tickets and information, visit the Southbank Centre website.
A Younger Theatre contains reviews, features and blogs on the theatre industry for writers aged 26 and under, with a particular focus on emerging creatives. AYT is also co-producing Incoming Festival from 1 – 10 June at the New Diorama Theatre.