JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE ANKUR HAHA at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 21.9.13.
3 stars ***
RACE relations in Scotland is often something of an untold story; ethnic minority groups tend to be relatively small as a proportion of the population, and their voice is less clearly heard. Here, though, is a double-bill of powerful new short plays from the Glasgow company Ankur Productions that give a platform to the voices of black and Asian artists in Scotland; and if it’s not a flawless evening, it fairly seethes with energy, and with some blaziingly vivid imagery.
First up is Lou Prendergast’s Fifty Shades Of Black, in which this powerful solo singer-performer – plus two male actors, and a terrific three-piece band featuring guitar, trombone and keyboards – explores the story of black and mixed-race Caribbean people in Glasgow, beginning with her personal experience as the child of white woman and a black man who ran a brothel in the city, then looping back into Glasgow’s deep connections with the Atlantic slave trade, and into the legacy of a history of violent and inhuman racial exploitation that still influences our culture, and our sexual imaginations, today. It’s an ambitious agenda for a 45-minute show, and many of its themes could do with further development; but Prendergast cooks up a fine mix of personal reminiscence, historical document, dance and supercool music, to create a show with huge presence and potential.
Nalini Chetty’s Finding Noor, by contrast, initially adopts a slightly infuriating student-send-up approach to the tale of the wonderful Noor Inayat Khan, a woman of Indian family who became a British agent in France during the Second World War, and was captured and shot by the Gestapo at the age of 28. As three young actresses in WAAF uniforms bicker over who gets to play Noor, the play takes a while to deliver the basic story of Noor’s recruitment to the Special Operations Executive, and the racist attitudes she encounters there. The tone suddenly steadies and deepens, though, when Chetty herself takes to the stage to confront her three characters, and to talk from the heart about what Noor’s story means to her; and although the play’s early scenes threaten to sell the story a little short, Chetty makes a fine job, in the end, of rescuing from near-oblivion a narrative that speaks volumes about racial stereotypes and assumptions in Britain, and that should be more widely known.