Sakina's Restaurant could be renamed "The pros and cons of emigration". Told through the eyes of a young Azgi - the first privileged Indian from his village to move to the USA - we see a re-evaluation of the American dream and the loss of innocence.
Azgi arrives in the 'Land of Opportunity' and narrates his experiences, and those of his surrogate family who are also immigrants. For all these characters, the reality of the American Dream, with its promise of success and equal opportunity, manifests itself in a different and ultimately disappointing way. We meet the Boss's wife who's restricted by an unknown country, the spoilt baby son unwilling to share his Nintendo with no one, the religious fiancee struggling to reconcile his American experiences with his Indian upbringing, and the Sakina of the title, the betrothed daughter who desperately wants instead to be like her American girlfriends.
All of these are good value, but by far the most poignant and succinct character is Azgi's 'friend', the proprietor of Sakina's Restaurant, a capitalist, mammon-driven father who simply wants the best for his children. He can't scold his daughter without constant interruptions from punters wanting to book tables; we cringe as he tries to maintain his dignity, whilst being necessarily obsequious to his loathsome customers.
Writer and performer Aasif Mandvi is both highly animated and engaging as he summons up all of these diverse personae. That said, his turns as the males in the play are more convincing and subtle while the female characterisations are at best amusing and at worst stereotypical, particularly that of Sakina. The various monologues are peppered with fables à la Rudyard Kipling, and these work well to add a sense of the oral tradition of Eastern culture.
Kim Hughes' direction is solid on the whole, but her moments of stylisation are hit and miss, while the ending unnecessarily mallets the audience over the head with the 'moral of the story', which is already evident.
Nevertheless, Mandvi's writing is powerful and his delivery energetic, at times even sublime - which, all in all, results in a compelling theatrical experience. First seen in New York, the Amercians awarded Mandvi an Obie for this one-man show and not without good reason. Now I reckon the British palate is ready for a taste of Sakina's Restaurant - just watch out for the dirty cutlery.
- Hannah Khalil