What is the trouble with Asian men? Judging by this exuberant trawl, it's their mothers. But that's not all, not by a long chalk. Tamasha's edgey vox pop exercise gives us a wide ranging glimpse that is certainly hugely entertaining in its presentation but has a serious purpose in trying to counter some of the more toxic stereotypes doing the rounds. It could hardly come at a better time when `the trouble with Asian men' haunts the headlines almost as much `the trouble with Tony and Gordon'.
Tamasha, of course, are best known for such successes as East is East, Fourteen Songs Two Weddings and a Funeral and Strictly Dandia crossover hits that have reshaped the theatrical landscape. Earlier this year, they ran slightly aground in their adaptation of Rohinton Mistry's epic Indian novel, A Fine Balance. With The Trouble with Asian Men, though, they're back doing what they do best creating and devising their own work.
In fact, Sudha Bhuchar, Kristine Landon-Smith and Louise Wallinger's piece started out last year at artsdepot, the fringe venue in North Finchley. It's a sell-out run that looks set to repeat itself at Soho, a theatre with its finger firmly on the contemporary pulse.
Last night's audience lapped up and appreciated not only the stories recounted by Tamasha's talented quartet of actors but the subtle little digs and implications that emerged in between as they switched genders, attitudes and accents.
Anyone who saw Alecky Blythe's Come Out Eli (and less successfully, Cruising earlier this summer at the Bush) will recognise the formula. It's the `new' verbatim theatre whereby the words of the interviewees (here edited down from 160 hours to 75 minutes), are relayed through to the actors on stage through head microphones.
When it works, it creates an extraordinary effect - like hearing a collective heartbeat. And here, through Dividan Ladwa, Sonia Likhari, Amit Sharma and Wallinger (founder of her own company specialising in this form of non-fiction theatre) we get to hear and see a full, if primarily domestic, range of attitudes.
The result is at once hilarious and damning reflections often come through the revealingly naughty testimonies of wives and girlfriends but also surprisingly poignant. The picture that emerges is of an identity crisis young men struggling to cope with dual inheritances, stimulations and pressures. We live a double life, says one character, we've very good liars.
All theatre, you could argue, is manipulation. The Trouble with Asian Men is certainly artful. But it's truth comes through, loud and clear. Glorious, not to say essential viewing.
- Carole Woddis (reviewed at the Soho Theatre)