This past week has seen escalating tensions in the disputed territory of Kashmir. We’re very fortunate to have with us live via satellite both the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan. Mr Prime Minister, Mr President… have you met my daughter?
So runs British Asian sketch show Goodness Gracious Me’s justly famous sketch about pushy fathers always trying to marry off their daughters. Here we have the real life mother and son team of Asha and Ravi Jain to tell us the story of her and his father’s persistent attempts, much to his consternation, to find him a wife. One could say it fits into the Tricycle Theatre’s proud tradition of verbatim theatre, though the tone could hardly be more different from its earlier pieces about the 2011 London riots, Guantanamo Bay or the Bloody Sunday inquiry.
Sitting at a table on the stage to which the audience have already been invited to partake of samosas, and aided only by the occasional still or short piece of video on a screen behind them, the pair tell us the story of the disagreement that has brought them all the way from Toronto. She insists that the old ways are the best and that, having married his father when she scarcely knew him, they have, like Reb Tevye and Golde, come to love each other more every day since. Why then does Ravi resist their attempts to help him out, asking for a copy of his CV on the pretext of finding him a job, but actually to show some equally unwilling girl’s parents what a good prospect he would be?
If you’re going to base a show on your own life, it had better be a pretty darn interesting one – I once sat through a bizarre autobiographical monologue Off-Broadway in which the only remotely interesting thing about the speaker’s life was that she had been born abroad and now lived there, which must be true for a sizeable chunk of the city. A Brimful of Asha is certainly better than that, and of course it benefits from being a duologue rather than a monologue. It’s impossible to know on the strength of one viewing how much it changes from night to night, but the badinage between the two seems fresh and genuine. Unlike her son, Asha is not a professional actor and her longer monologues can pall a little for want of vocal colour, though she has a great knack for deadpan one-liners.
Goodness Gracious Me also included a Paul Simon parody called “50 Ways To Leave Your Mother”, one line of which was “Just tell her you’re queer, Ramir”, and both my companion and I suspected this might be the twist at the end of the show (it wasn’t). All in all, A Brimful of Asha is at times very funny, even moving sometimes, but for me it was a rather thin piece to hold the attention for 85 straight minutes.