If you love nothing more than watching impressions of iconic American films, listening to a vast range of American accents, and holding your breath as someone tries to squeeze into a Spider-Man suit, then this show is for you. Unfortunately I love none of those three, er, skills. Hetain Patel’s American Boy is a fascinating concept and I arrived at the theatre excited about how he would be presenting his ‘personal and humorous take on identity shape-shifting.’ However, I was disappointed by the ordinariness of the comedy and his refusal to experiment or take any risks.
Perhaps I needed to know the films (all listed in the programme) that Patel was imitating more closely before I could really engage with the comedy. While the American Pyscho voice overs certainly have meaningful suggestions about the ease in which we re-shape ourselves to present different versions of who we are, I did not find this theme in many of the other film references. Pulp Fiction, X-Men, The Dark Knight, Beverly Hills Cop 1&2… all action packed American films with strong imitable characters; but does repeating a funny quotation from The Simpsons in a funny voice actually do anything more than remind us about an amusing moment we once had when we first watched the film? There are attempts to make interesting links between the films, merging some themes together to write an engaging script and I cannot fault the performance for very good impressions. Patel has superb observation skills, the nuances of his vocal and physical performance reflecting an excellent ability to capture the essence of a character. It is instantly clear which character from which film he was impersonating – I guess that makes up for the lack of real creativity with presenting the overall concept.
Patel’s programme notes, saying that he ‘looks at the multiple personas that we all inhabit in our day-to-day lives,’ is most thoroughly realised in his satire of home-made YouTube videos. He takes on the role of the rather desperate ‘Real-deal Spidey’, cleverly using cameras and screens on stage to both make and present his film at the same time. This comic satire on the world of YouTube followers with their endless pointless updates and their ‘shout-outs’ to other fans and friends, reminds us that we live in a culture where we feel a compulsion to share everything we do… everything including the latest tailoring adjustments on our Spider-Man costume.
Interesting questions are raised about the making of films, the ridiculous nature of special effects, and the power that simply adding a sound effect to a movement can produce. With his excellent imitative skills, Patel explores a wide range of personas and characters to create an amusing 55 minutes. Perhaps my expectations were too high and I was hoping for a really fresh and innovative reflection on the screen culture in which we all live; instead, I was offered a series of imitations, and a study of our culture that told me nothing that wasn’t blatantly obvious already.