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Review: INVISIBLE, Bush Theatre

Nikhil Parmar's disorientating play lacks focus

Review: INVISIBLE, Bush Theatre Review: INVISIBLE, Bush Theatre Nikhil Parmar's Invisible is an onstage identity crisis. It wants to be taken seriously as problem play about the representation of people of colour in the entertainment industry. It also wants to stuff itself with as many characters and sub-plots as it can, within its one hour run time. It also wants to be relentlessly funny.

The result is suffocating. With each of these clamouring for airtime, themes that deserve room to flourish are given no breathing room and tonal pandemonium ensues.

Perhaps it is doomed from the start with its bizarre premise. All Muslim extremist terrorism has been inexplicably eradicated which, unfortunately for Zayan (played by Parmar), means there are no roles for people of colour as villains. As a concept it is neither outrageous enough to be satirical, nor emotive enough to garner sympathy. It is difficult to grasp who or what is really being criticised here, if indeed this is a criticism and not just a joke. The disorientating tone is only exacerbated as the play unfolds.

The lack of focus is not helped by the irreverent humour. The gags feel derivative; it is almost as if someone has summoned the ghost of David Brent, as most of the gags are one semi-awkward, turn-to-the-camera style wise crack after another. Whilst astonishing that almost even after twenty years The Office is still influential, here the Gervais-isms are nothing other than easy laughs that impede narrative progression.

Above all else it makes the real heart of the play hard to find. There too many story paths that go in too many directions, each of which is beset by tangent after tangent. It is like navigating a labyrinth, constantly going back on itself, then forward, only to find another dead end. There are the struggles of being a single parent, processing the grief of a dead sister and overcoming a relationship with an ex-partner among others. With them they bring a plethora of characters, many of whom blend into each other despite Parmar's admirable attempts to differentiate them with accents.

Uninspired staging does little to untangle the narrative threads. For the most part, Parmar flutters around without demarcating much-needed space for each story. Not only does everything collapse into an amorphous mess, but it obfuscates the tone. A stronger sense of irony is desperately needed to bracket the sequences that are tongue in cheek, especially when other sequences depict violence.

Towards the climax Zayan incites a race riot because he no longer wants to remain invisible to his white counterparts. He clambers into the audience as if to declare the moment's gravitas. But it is unclear what is actually being declared, and what the creative team want the audience to take away from the sequence, something that can be said for the entire production. The moment is one of many that sits too comfortably in the unwieldy middle ground between satire and seriousness.

Yet despite everything, Parmar is certainly a capable performer. He is smouldering with energy from start to finish. It is a shame the production does not let him channel his alacrity in any fruitful directions.

Invisible is at the Bush Theatre until 16 July

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

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