A child born on the first day of a new nation; a personal history backed by the soundtrack of politics and a combination of Britain and post-partition India. Given a lazy blurb, last night’s production at the Brewery Theatre would sound like none other than Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Look a little closer though and the similarities end.
Perhaps unfairly, and definitely unsophisticatedly, the most frequent moan leveled at Rushdie’s beautiful text is that it is too long, too convoluted and involves too many characters. (Indeed, there is a unique Wikipedia entry just detailing the names of all the characters. The plot is dealt with in a separate place.)
It would take an exceptionally impatient viewer to say the same of The Tiger and the Moustache by Saikat Ahamed. Streamlined down in every respect, the production is performed by Ahamed alone, with only the accompaniment of brief sound effects and a selection of props. It tells the story of his family’s journey from Bangladesh to Britain and his relationship to the folklore and realities of family history and a nation.
Ahamed is a fantastic mimic, almost embarrassingly good at conjuring snapshots of individuals and stereotypes out of the ether on stage. He does all the voices – exactly, perfectly – and I find myself thinking ‘I bet he’d be really good at reading bedtime stories!’ The Tiger and the Moustache is not a bedtime story (although I did spot a few authentic children in the audience) and is all the better for it. There is a happy ending in the sense that Ahamed himself is successfully settled and is happily raising his own children on this little grey island. There is also as sad one when he talks of the uncle whose existence stopped after he became an enemy of East Pakistan (later Bangladesh).
Finally there is the question the play ends on: his mother is Bangladesh; the uncle is Bangladesh and he is…also Bangladesh? Who knows. The point is no one really knows what it is to be part of a nation or to have a nationality. No one knows if drinking tea keeps one topped up with Britishness each morning or if it is possible to enjoy architecture built from the money of the slave trade.
Often when we do think about nationality and historic pride it is with messy arrogance or a childlike reliance on superstitious items. It was nice then, to see a soft and, at times, very humorous approach to the subject instead. Ahamed approached some real beasts of issues – identity, nationality and history – and successfully tamed them with the help of more than just pretty facial hair.