One of the country’s leading theatremakers has a very personal and touching show…
By Steven Barfield
SUDHA BHUCHAR’S autobiographical one-woman show is at turns bitter-sweet, wryly humorous, and thought-provoking.
It entertains us for an hour about a neglected subject, prompting discussion as well as laughter. It works on many levels and has something to offer everyone in the audience.
It is a considered and considerable mediation on what it means to be a middle-aged British Asian actress at sixty.
As many will know, Bhuchar has been both an actor of note in everything from British soaps, such as ‘Eastenders’ and ‘The Archers’ to feature films and is also well known for her critical role in Tamasha theatre company as an actor and producer.
Her experience and words are given greater weight by these facts.
Although it is a one-woman show it is no straightforward monologue, as Bhuchar has cleverly adapted her interest in the form of verbatim theatre (theatre based on recorded conversation) and ‘Evening Conversations’ is therefore at its heart a conversation with her two sons. They are the ever-present sounding board and interlocutors for their mother’s thoughts.
Being an actress of a certain age is always difficult everywhere, as roles traditionally dry up for women as they get older.
However, Bhuchar shows that it is especially difficult for a British Asian woman who must also confront the stereotyping that comes with assumptions about what happens to a British Asian woman; she jokes that she rarely gets offers for roles beyond the stereotypical Asian mother.
Bhuchar interrogates these assumptions with humour and successfully draws the audience into debating them. While the play is autobiographical, it nonetheless uses Bhuchar’s own life to point to issues which the British Asian community seldom talk about and which have widespread relevance. Are the values of the British Asians of the past the same as those of their children and is this new ‘generation gap’ a bad thing? As Bhuchar’s two sons comment, their mum is “too political” and it is “(her) identity crisis not theirs”.
We all need to confront the fact that the world we grew up in is not the same as it is for the current generation.
British-Asian identity has undoubtedly shifted measurably from 1970 to the present and who would have imagined in 1970 there would be a British PM of Asian descent? Who would have thought in the 1970s British Pakistani identity and British Indian identity now seem to be increasingly divergent, as India under the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, have moved towards a more Hindu-centric approach and Islam increasingly predominates in Pakistan? Bhuchar explores such changes amongst others.
It remains to some extent a mother’s story (and that of her two sons) and a reminder that what often seems so taken-for-granted in Asian identity is the largely invisible role of the Asian mother as an endless source of succour and family support.
Yet in doing so, we are often guilty of overlooking the fact that these mothers are women with dreams, hopes and rich inner lives. But such is the warmth and candour of Bhuchar’s exploration of her subject you will leave the theatre thoughtful and smiling, wiser certainly, but also entertained by an actor who has been so integral to the history of British Asian theatre and its audience.
All pictures: ©Bhuchar Boulevard & Harry Elletson
ACV rating: ***** (five out of five)
Steven Barfield is visiting research fellow at London South Bank University and saw the show at the Soho Theatre in London last week as a special preview…
‘Evening Conversations’, written and performed by Sudha Bhucha; directed by Kristine Landon-Smith; music by Arun Ghosh
Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9TJ