Until now, Sody Singh Kahlon has been best known for writing and performing with the acclaimed Funjabis comedy troupe. The Funjabis were created in 1997, the same year that Goodness Gracious Me began on Radio 4. Asian comedy was already moving into the mainstream, but around this time things were really motoring, reaching celluloid heights in 1999 with the film East is East. Awkward subjects such as arranged marriages, religious purity, patriarchal struggles and cultural differences became things that had a funny side and were not just meat for the bones of a heavy drama.
Asian and non-Asian audiences saw the joke and The Funjabis enjoyed their share of success, with their sketch and stand-up show Don't Worry Be Funjabi. With Sikhs in the City, Sody has gone it alone. The problem is that he is on his own with 20 characters for company.
Essentially the show is a collection of monologues, the main player being a 33-year-old Sikh man, Mr Singh, working at a Tandoori restaurant but with ambitions to become an actor. Along the way he encounters racism, his father's cynicism, and the difficulties of finding a pure love. Other characters drop in, including his avaricious uncle and his grandparents, all played by Sody.
Fortunately, he does get a little help. Saeed Jaffrey and Nina Wadia (from TV's Goodness Gracious Me and All About Me) are among those who appear on a video screen. The multi-media effect is well choreographed and the screen plays host to some excellent visual gags.
But the audience could have done with fewer characters - namely the relatives whose behaviour seemed to have no bearing on the life of Mr Singh, and thecaricatures such as a teacher, bitter at the success of her friend Meera Syal's career and the homosexual owner of a turban emporium, who raised a few nervous laughs.
For 100 minutes there was a battle, not exactly raging more sputtering, between a comedy show and a semi-autobiographical play. To me it seems that peace could only have broken out within a 60- minute format. In this time slot the narrative would have had time to breathe and Singh's family develop or the show becomes a parade of characters, unrelated but linked by Sikhism, broken up with video interludes.
Building a comedy show around a family of characters played by one person is no mean feat, trying to cover an extended family seems too tall an order.
In his show at the Wyndhams Theatre last year Lenny Henry morphed between stand-up and a small group of characters whose relation to each other strengthened every time they were visited. At the time it was impressive but this evening showed me just what an achievement it was. There is something to strive for in Sikhs in the City but by the time the show goes on its national tour it might be time for something slightly different.Reuse content