The Trouble with Asian Men

Sudha Buchar, Kristine Landon-Smith and Louise Wallinger
Soho Theatre
(2006)

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The title of this Verbatim drama sounds like the opening of a racist or sexist joke and visitors are asked to text in punchlines. At the opening night, these failed to ignite the debate but soon enough the selections from 160 hours of recordings with men and women, Asian and otherwise get into in full swing.

The four cast members are fed their lines, pauses and all, through earphones and attempt to relate them exactly as heard, thereby attempting to attain a degree of authenticity that should be close to perfection. This style of theatre is becoming popular but it is hard to see that it really adds much to the performances of good actors.

This team have been extremely well rehearsed and generally carry off the effects, even when they cross gender, which is quite frequently.

In one hour, a picture is built of today's generation of British Asian men and women and they still fit many of the clichés. The typical bloke is a mummy's boy who can now usually select his own wife and is desperate to assimilate into the British culture, though of course, there are many exceptions.

The creators have been keener to amuse their audience, who appreciatively recognise characteristics, than go too far into conflict. They do touch on problem areas such as overly-attentive mothers-in-law, prejudice and even homosexuality so that there is a reasonably broad portrait of the titular species.

The presentation is simple but effective as the actors move and lounge around a mock living room. The choice of actors for the dozens of parts is seemingly based on their characters rather than gender or for the most part background.

Co-writer Louise Wallinger primarily plays the non-Asians, Amit Sharma the laid back men, Sonia Likhari the giggly airheads, while the very impressive and versatile Divian Ladwa frequently offers deeper characterisations in a variety of styles.

Where this often amusing look at contemporary Asian culture misses out is in the two areas of greatest interest to the community and wider groupings today. The news is filled with stories of arranged marriages that border on kidnappings and the impact of the War on Terror for young Asians. Both of these topics are mentioned but neither investigated which represents a misused opportunity. This may be because the original interviews took place some time ago but the problem should not have been insuperable.

Overall, the hour-long show will prove successful as it tours the country. There is far too little theatre addressing Asian issues and portraying this generation sympathetically. Some ripe and often funny comedy is a bonus.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher