Nowhere to Belong: Tales of an Extravagant Stranger, Soho Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a fellow writer on this paper, but I have never met her or spoken to her. My unworthy anxiety had been that I might not like her one-woman show, now presented under the auspices of the RSC at the Soho Theatre, and that I would be hard put to find the words to explain my stance tactfully.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a fellow writer on this paper, but I have never met her or spoken to her. My unworthy anxiety had been that I might not like her one-woman show, now presented under the auspices of the RSC at the Soho Theatre, and that I would be hard put to find the words to explain my stance tactfully.

As it turns out, my predicament is precisely the reverse. The show is a gem - very funny and touching - and any person of spirit would find themselves falling in love with Alibhai-Brown, especially her charming, mischievous face and bright berry eyes, her outfit (which includes a scarf of apricot invaded by Ribena milk) and her impudent, independent-minded manner.

Shakespeare is the lodestone of this piece, which takes us back to Alibhai-Brown's childhood in the Asian community in Kampala, Uganda, during the parlous era of Idi Amin. She conjures up her family circumstances with quick, incisive summations - her gambling, spendthrift, unreliable father, for example, springs to instant life as someone who was "eloquent a lot of the time'' (that qualification itself undermining "eloquent"). She also feelingly evokes the invidious position (neither white nor black, and therefore suffering the contempt and distrust of both) of the Asians in Uganda (a position that eventually resulted in their expulsion).

There is a book to be written (and I suggest that Alibhai-Brown is the person to write it) about how Romeo and Juliet has been commandeered by directors wishing to heal the differences between racial and religious sects by bring them together in the staging of this tragedy. I once went to Ramallah and talked to George Ibrahim, the Palestinian director who took part in the famous touring Arab-Israeli production of Romeo and Juliet in the 1970s. Apparently, there was less harmony behind the scenes than was suggested at the high-profile press conferences.

The young Alibhai-Brown starred as Juliet in a version where the Montagues were played by blacks and the Capulets by browns. To discover the distressing aftermath of that venture and the excellent way Alibhai-Brown admits to the tricky nature of memory, you will have to see the show. Suffice to say that this idealistic venture seems to me to have lacked the proper care for the pupils taking part in it. It's obvious in her flights into Shakespearean verse that this award-winning actress knows how to act and is really rather stage-struck. I think the RSC should give her a crack at Paulina in The Winter's Tale.

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