Immigrant Diaries

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Ed Grimble

at 12:22 on 16th Aug 2015

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In amongst the madness and chaos of the Edinburgh Fringe, it can sometimes be good to spend an hour or so catching a show that is a little more relaxed. This does not have to be a by-word for boring, mediocre, or lacking in any depth, however, and Immigrant Diaries at The Assembly Rooms certainly proves this. Less of a scripted performance, this show had an air of being ‘an evening with…’ event, as four comedians shared some of their experiences of being an immigrant, either stories about other cultures and customs with which they are familiar, or their feelings about what it is like to be an immigrant in Britain. As host Sajeela Kershi said in her introduction, it is people rather than statistics that tell the story of British immigration.

The format of the evening was judged exceedingly well. A warm welcome for the three guest speakers: Natasha Noman, Sanjay Mahju, and Ria Lina, was followed by the first part of a long anecdote by Keshi about how she and her family came to arrive in Blighty. After each segment of this talk, one of the three guests would in turn speak about their own experiences as immigrants. The addresses were of an optimum time length, being long enough to get some real body to the story, whilst not descending into long and tangental ramblings. Kershi’s commanding, if not a little abrasive, presence on stage at intervals gave the performative a solid lynchpin around which to pivot, and averted the danger of the show appearing fragmented or disjointed.

To try and pick apart the merits or flaws of Noman, Mahju, Lina would be irrelevant and contrived. All three spoke with zeal and confidence, not to mention a great deal of credibility. Their tales were without doubt entertaining (how could a story about your experiences about lesbian Tinder in deeply religious Pakistan not be), engaging, but perhaps lacking the edge needed for the show to be able to more clearly make a serious point about and realities of immigration.

If you find yourself with an hour or so free of an evening, then there are much worse ways of sending it than by watching Immigrant Diaries. Four very funny, down-to-earth speakers share some cracking stories about their lives, and what they have to say is certainly, in my opinion, worth hearing.

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Stephanie Young

at 12:26 on 16th Aug 2015

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Comedian Sajeela Kershi hosts Immigrant Diaries, a compilation of stories from herself and three guests of varying cultural backgrounds about their experiences of immigration. Immigrant Diaries is refreshing because it is neither aggressively political nor overemotional; it doesn’t demand too much of the audience, only kindly asks them to listen to these individuals’ unique, comic tales.

In between the guest speakers’ short sets, Kershi relays the story of her immigration from Pakistan as a child and her parents’ desire for one of their offspring to attend Oxford University. They pass through Germany and eventually settle in the Home Counties – it doesn’t get more British middle class than that.

Kershi is an affable host, gathering the audience in front of her as though we are about to sit down for story time together. She establishes a relaxed atmosphere and, in an attempt to redress widespread anti-immigration tendencies, unites the audience further by reminding us that we all (at some ancestral level) have immigrant heritage. At times, the atmosphere is possibly too relaxed and would benefit from some reinvigoration.

Guests Natasha Noman, Sanjay Majhu, and Ria Lina form an eclectic and humorous flesh for the show’s frame. As a lesbian journalist previously working in Pakistan, Noman is able to offer a rare perspective on seemingly contrasting cultures. In an anecdote about a Tinder date and terrorism, Noman’s wry humour and straight-faced delivery demystifies stereotypes of the East and West. Sanjay Majhu’s set contrasts nicely; Majhu is more physically expressive as he tells us about (ironically) discovering his Indian artistic roots after immigrating to Glasgow. The highlight of the evening for me is Ria Lina, whose Philippine-German parentage causes her to jokingly lament the birth of a child of whom she ‘looks more like the nanny than the mother’ in a sweet song on ukulele.

However, these sets are in danger of feeling incomplete. Kershi presents Immigrant Diaries as subsidiary piece to her own and her guests’ principal shows at the Fringe; its substantiality would be helped simply by describing it as a performance in its own right.

Immigrant Diaries is not riotous comedy, nor a life-changing show, but all four of the storytellers are excellent, natural speakers, making for an interesting and enjoyable way to spend an evening. They remind us to relish learning about the people we meet in this gloriously multicultural country. To adopt Kershi’s own words, ‘statistics don’t tell the story, people do.’

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