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AHIR SHAH'S DUFFER AT BLOOMSBURY THEATRE

Delivering a show that is equal parts comic and tragic is a challenge (although one that, at time of writing, the UK government is delivering with vigour). Throw in too many jokes and your audience start to feel an uncomfortable guilt in laughing at tragedy. Don’t throw in enough and they feel less like they’ve seen some comedy and more that they’ve spent 90 minutes being reminded of the relentlessness of human suffering. I have endured other comedy gigs which did meet this description but for different reasons.  

On the whole Shah manages to succeed in his quest to draw out mirth from a harrowing series of events. When he was a young child, his paternal grandmother lived with Shah and his family in the UK; indeed, raising him like a son, it was her who bestowed the affectionate nickname ‘Duffer’, meaning clown or fool, upon him. When Shah was 5, she was abruptly deported back to India with the rationale that she had another son there who could look after her. No matter that this was the same son who had stolen most of her money leading her to seek refuge in the UK. The Home Office doesn’t like to be inconvenienced with annoying distractions like ‘the details’. The rawness of Shah’s anger is evident here as he compares what happened to the more recent Windrush scandal and the fallacy of treating human beings as mere statistics. Unsurprisingly, these events combined with the suicide of an Uncle took a toll on his mental health.  As an atheist, he wryly observes that he knows religion is just lurking in the corner, teasing and cajoling him towards the promise of salvation. But it hasn’t succeeded yet.

Family is a strong topic within Duffer and while they are vastly different, Shah talks with affection of his father and his eagerness for Shah to obtain an Indian passport. As someone who has navigated their way through the labyrinthine nature of an Indian tourist visa form, one can only imagine the admin nightmare that is the passport application. Shah personifies the form as a screaming bureaucrat that is manically trying to find out the applicant’s relationship to Pakistan and does so to great comic effect.

There is a consistent tone throughout the show where Shah hits you with a joke and then a punch to the emotional gut; sometimes in the same sentence. The tone for this is set fairly soon so it never feels awkward – this is Shah’s style and the audience willingly adapt to the frequent changes in tone.    

Shah saw his grandmother for the first time since her deportation last year – it was also the last time as, suffering from cancer, she died shortly after. At this late stage, she was also suffering from dementia and barely recognised him adding in further cruelty to a tragic story. While the show has many great instances of insightful humour and wry observation, it’s hard for the take-away emotion not to be ‘righteous anger and indignation at the state of society’. For some this might not be the ideal tonic for a night out but it is a vital one if you have an important story to tell and Shah does. Duffer finished its run at Bloomsbury theatre this week and I shall be watching with interest to see which topic Shah decides to tackle next.

For more information on Ahir Shah and hs current shows, please click here

For more information on Ahir Shah and his current shows, please click heredfdDelivering a show that is equal parts comic and tragic is a challenge (although one that, at time of writing, the UK government is delivering with vigour). Throw in too many jokes and your audience start to feel an uncomfortable guilt in laughing at tragedy. Don’t throw in enough and they feel less like they’ve seen some comedy and more that they’ve spent 90 minutes being reminded of the relentlessness of human suffering. I have endured other comedy gigs which did meet this description but for different reasons.  
 
On the whole Shah manages to succeed in his quest to draw out mirth from a harrowing series of events. When he was a young child, his paternal grandmother lived with Shah and his family in the UK; indeed, raising him like a son, it was her who bestowed the affectionate nickname ‘Duffer’, meaning clown or fool, upon him. When Shah was 5, she was abruptly deported back to India with the rationale that she had another son there who could look after her. No matter that this was the same son who had stolen most of her money leading her to seek refuge in the UK. The Home Office doesn’t like to be inconvenienced with annoying distractions like ‘the details’. The rawness of Shah’s anger is evident here as he compares what happened to the more recent Windrush scandal and the fallacy of treating human beings as mere statistics. Unsurprisingly, these events combined with the suicide of an Uncle took a toll on his mental health.  As an atheist, he wryly observes that he knows religion is just lurking in the corner, teasing and cajoling him towards the promise of salvation. But it hasn’t succeeded yet.
 
Family is a strong topic within ‘Duffer’ and while they are vastly different, Shah talks with affection of his father and his eagerness for Shah to obtain an Indian passport. As someone who has navigated their way through the labyrinthine nature of an Indian tourist visa form, one can only imagine the admin nightmare that is the passport application. Shah personifies the form as a screaming bureaucrat that is manically trying to find out the applicant’s relationship to Pakistan and does so to great comic effect.
 
There is a consistent tone throughout the show where Shah hits you with a joke and then a punch to the emotional gut; sometimes in the same sentence. The tone for this is set fairly soon so it never feels awkward – this is Shah’s style and the audience willingly adapt to the frequent changes in tone.    
 
Shah saw his grandmother for the first time since her deportation last year – it was also the last time as, suffering from cancer, she died shortly after. At this late stage, she was also suffering from dementia and barely recognised him adding in further cruelty to a tragic story. While the show has many great instances of insightful humour and wry observation, it’s hard for the take-away emotion not to be ‘righteous anger and indignation at the state of society’. For some this might not be the ideal tonic for a night out but it is a vital one if you have an important story to tell and Shah does. Duffer finished its run at Bloomsbury theatre this week and I shall be watching with interest to see which topic Shah decides to tackle next.
 
For more information on Ahir Shah and his current shows, please click here