‘Our lives are full of boxes’ says Saikat Ahamed as he opens the stage at Brewery Theatre for Strictly Balti, his one-man tale of life as a second generation Bangladeshi boy in Birmingham.
And the set is just that, a series of boxes that Bristol-based Ahamed sits on, jumps on and upturns throughout the show, never quite managing to ever fit into one. And why should he? How could he? At home he is Saikat, at school he is Sid and, on a family trip to the Motherland, he is the English boy. His parents want the best for him, “to be a doctor!” and, though he’s an accommodating boy, he doesn’t always understand the sacrifices the older couple have made in order to improve their son’s life.
Brought to us by the excellent Travelling Light Theatre Company, this is the (autobiographical) story of anyone who has ever had to grow up, regardless of their parentage, because it’s a story about the absolute need to fit in. Everyone argues with their parents, most of us had a first crush, many kids struggle with identity issues, we’re all made to do things we’d rather not do.
Sometimes monologues can be delivered with anger, even brutality, but Saikat’s journey is told with gentle humour and honesty. He loves his parents, that’s plain. But, blimey, they can be set in their ways, demanding, out of touch with what it really means to be ‘English’. I liked the man Saikat, I would have liked the boy. He kept my attention and I don’t think I missed a word he said.
As we follow Saikat through primary and then secondary school, we can relate to him and his life, even though not one person in the audience seems to have a strand of Asian in them. Some of us, however, will know what it means to be second or third generation Irish, say. We might have felt the pull of dual, sometimes seemingly opposing, communities or that talk of ‘home’. We may have experienced the suspicion of others (though racism, interestingly, is never mentioned by Saikat) and the inner battles of otherness.
We stayed on at the Brewery for the short Q&A with our protagonist, which I throughly recommend you do if you get the chance. This gave us a fuller insight into the performance (not that it needs explaining; there’s nothing complicated about the ideas or the delivery) and connected us more strongly to this character, this actor who never became a doctor.
Due to popular demand, Tobacco Factory Theatres have added extra dates for Strictly Balti so, if you’re lucky, you still might get the chance to see it.
– Strictly Balti is on at Brewery Theatre until Saturday 25th October
– Review by Becky Condron