Sonia Likhari & Jo Harper,
The Trouble with Asian Men,
2005

Sonia Likhari and Jo Harper in The Trouble with Asian Men

The Trouble with Asian Men

Soho Theatre, London
by Rachel Halliburton
Time Out London | 11 September 2006

There’s a story in the middle of ‘The Trouble with Asian Men’ that is almost as funny as it is terrible. A girl is discussing the relationship between her parents. Scathingly, she reveals how her father would whistle to her mother in order to get her to perform tasks –  making ‘different noises’ according to whether he wanted her to fetch salt, prepare his clothes after a shower, or find pickles.

It’s an astonishing moment among the jostle of voices that forms this verbatim portrait of Asian male culture. Tamasha’s Sudha Buchar, Kristine Landon-Smith and Louise Wallinger have created an enjoyably idiosyncratic collage of impressions based on 160 hours of interviews with both Asians and non-Asians across the UK. This gargantuan chunk of material has been slimmed down to one hour, and the dialogue is delivered by four actors who recite the recorded words as they are played into their ears on headphones. Of course there’s a skill to delivering it this ‘real’, and the company of four –  arranged in different formations around an orange sofa and blond wood coffee table –  performs the material with artfully casual confidence.

Part of the show’s strength is that no point is being hammered home here. Some of the stories –  not least those about possessive mothers – could come from any community, though the girl who had to regularly watch her dressing-gown clad boyfriend eating his mother’s curry at 4.30pm before they went out was a notable exception.

A fascinating moment occurs towards the end when it’s pointed out that many Asian boys naturally lead double lives. At home they must, for example, speak Punjabi: in the streets they adopt Western values. Secrecy and duplicity, it’s implied, become almost a way of life. Mostly it’s not sinister: just an essential means of social survival.

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