Summerhall (Tech Cube 0), Edinburgh
Lubna Kerr emigrated from Pakistan to Glasgow when she was just a child. Now, many years later, she looks back on her life, growing up as an outsider, marginalised and stereotyped, and she rails – softly – against the constrictions she has endured.
The first constriction we hear about is in her own arteries. She’s in A&E with what the doctor is insisting is a stress-related heart problem. “But I’m not stressed,” Lubna demurs. She’s happy, isn’t she? What has she got to be stressed about?
Considering this question takes Kerr down a rabbit hole of remembrance, and she recounts for us the experiences that have shaped her, and led her here: to the hospital and to this stage – to two different kinds of theatre.
Kerr’s narrative is gentle and meandering, a wry and often self-deprecating account. There is humour and affection in her tale, and she has a very amiable presence; it’s easy to warm to her. Hers is a middle-class background: her mother laments the lack of household help and bemoans the size of their Govan flat; it’s not as fancy as she was used to, back in Pakistan. Their new neighbours assume Lubna’s dad is a shopkeeper or a bus driver, because that’s what the other brown people they know do. But her father is a scientist: he’s doing a PhD; he teaches at Strathclyde university. But being educated, being relatively well-off, these aren’t enough to protect the family from casual racism. Even at Brownies, where everyone seems to mean well, Lubna’s popularity comes courtesy of a badge the others can earn for meeting someone from the Commonwealth…
This is an immensely likeable show (and not just because we’re all given a Tunnock’s teacake), although it does feel a little too polite at times, and I would like to see the stakes raised. The running race, for example, feels thrown away: the build up is nicely done, but then it peters out, with no climax. I’m also not convinced that it’s necessary to try to hide the act of drinking water; Kerr walks behind a sofa several times during the show and, with her back to us, takes a sip from her bottle. I think it would look more natural and be less intrusive if she were to incorporate this into the show – and this would also give her the opportunity to interact with the set more effectively. There’s quite a lot of paraphernalia here that doesn’t really get used; if she had a vintage jug and water glass to go with the 1970s TV, etc., she could sit on the sofa and pour herself a drink as part of the action.
Tickbox offers a fascinating insight into life as an immigrant – and we leave, talking about the issues raised, and tucking into our teacakes.