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Tender, bittersweet voice falls just short in ‘Burq Off!’ (Review)

Tender, bittersweet voice falls just short in ‘Burq Off!’ (Review)

September 16 2014

One-woman show delights, touches and transgresses, but is too long, despite power and humour along the way…

By Suman Bhuchar

PERFORMER Nadia P Manzoor is articulate, attractive and versatile.

Her one-woman show at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone, London played to packed and very receptive audiences last week (from September 9-14).

Many were Asian women, who enjoyed Manzoor’s autobiographical confessional about what it was like to grow up as a young Muslim girl in a small town in the UK.

She begins with big ambitions – at the age of five she declares she wants to be an astronaut. Her parents patronise her and say a far more important and fulfilling role awaits her – yes, when she becomes a ‘wife and mother’.

So, we get to meet her family and are taken on her journey through adolescence with twin brother Khurram, mother, Ammi, and father, Abba.

Her parents feel duty bound to inculcate a sense of traditional Islamic values.

First, her grandparents are beamed over from Pakistan and they are the usual stereotypes we expect of South Asians, with granddad doing a shuffle as he teaches her Urdu because English is banished from the household; while granny has the usual prejudices about the ‘Goras’ (white people): they are filthy, drink alcohol and eat swine.

After a while this type of lampooning of the Pakistani South Asian family begins to sound repetitive because the audience wants to understand and empathise with the journey of this young woman growing up in a dual culture and attempting to find her place within it.

She lies to her friend’s mother at the bus stop, pretending that the family goes on holiday to Los Angeles but really they are going to Pakistan.

There is the imam joke – he gets off looking at women in scanty burlesque outfits – Manzoor tries the risqué approach by talking about wanting to ‘do sex’, something her mother tries to shield her from as she bans her from being in the parents’ bedroom as she watches her favourite TV programme, “Dallas”.

Manzoor caricatures how Pakistanis and Indians ‘do sex’ Bollywood style with a “Dilwale Dulhaniya LeJayenge” cinema moment.

She goes to the cinema as a teenager and actually falls in love with her first cousin over from Pakistan. He is a macho, earthy type, who more or less helps himself to her in teenage fashion with gropes and winks.

Manzoor is on stage for the entire duration and it makes you breathless as she goes through a range of characters, charging about imitating lots of voices and affecting many a mannerism.

When she imitates her dad, she tries to give herself manly authority, but adopts a Peter Sellers ‘birdy num-num’ type voice, which sounds remarkably similar to all the other characters.

The most sensitive and poignant portrayal is of ‘Ammi’ – who comes across as a warm soul and peacemaker.

Manzoor has observed her mother well and her manner of movement and delivery is great.

It is really difficult to carry off a one-person show and this one needs to be tightened. On the evening I went it ran to one hour and 40minutes.

Really, the audience does not need to know every episode in her life and some of the jokes are repetitive. There are too many stereotypical characters at the beginning – created, it would seem, for easy laughs and it is too much like a series of sketches without a strong narrative.

ACV
Nadia P Manzoor in 'Burq Off!'

More could be done with the final act, quite easily the best and most powerful.

It’s a mixed bag – Manzoor has a powerful story to tell and a winning personality – and ability, but we don’t really know what she has learnt and a sequel (“Jerk Off!“), understood to be in the works, should not really be the solution.

ACV rating: *** (out of five)

Burq Off!
One woman show written and performed by Nadia P. Manzoor
Cockpit Theatre
Directed & developed by Tara Elliott
Production management: Marina Romashko
Set design: Mitchell Ost
Composition and sound design: JX Randall, Arooj Aftab.
Lighting design amd production stage manager: Haejin Han
Vocal coach: Pamela Prather
Presented by Paprika Productions

More on Nadia P. Manzoor and stories like hers here (www.burqoff.com))

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture