So last week was a busy week. As well as the usual slew of emails, telephone calls, Facebook updates and twitter tweeting which has become the mainstay of my Edinburgh marketing, there was the small matter of actually rehearsing the show, or rather re-rehearsing.
After a while away (we had a pilot tour of Strictly Balti around the South West in autumn 2014) and after other jobs and other roles, playing canines and con men in 101 Dalmatians, researching a new theatre project around the UK and writing a new show centred around the heart of darkness, I was coming back to Strictly Balti, back to my childhood reminiscences of Brum, back to Sid. For those of you who know the show, who may have seen one of the few public performances last year, you'll hopefully remember Sid. Without giving too much away, Sid was an important part of my childhood, a friend of sorts when I needed one and a vital ingredient of my growing up. I had to do him justice.
The issue was I haven't seen Sid for so long, that my recollections of him were pretty hazy. In an effort to find him, or at least a truth about him, and also as part of my rudimentary marketing ideas, I asked my parents for some old VHS videos to trawl through. What I got was a huge Toys R Us bag, filled to bursting with tapes from yesteryear, covered in dust and intriguing labels; Bangladesh Evening, Shahid Dibas '85, Xmas Party in the Surgery.
Nothing could have prepared me for the wave of nostalgia and at times melancholy from the grainy video playing on the small portable video TV combo. A collection of faces that I had long forgotten, friends from my Primary school, St Teresa's, whom I hadn't seen since I left them at the end of year 6, my Dad's secretary and practice manager stood behind a pyramid of wine glasses, ready to dispense festive cheer at the Surgery's Yuletide celebrations, Uncles and Aunts (no relation of course) who even then back in the mid-eighties seemed ancient yet now in a new millennium seem sadly frozen in time through the magic of VHS. Where are they all now? Where did they go? It really brings home the transient nature of friendships, connections, passing acquaintances. It's not that I want all of them in my life, I don't, I wouldn't know what to do with them all. It's more that I didn't actually miss them (most of them). They were like a forgotten dream, vivid at the time but then gone. But here they all were before me. But no Sid. My parents never captured Sid on camera (he never came to the house).
Going back to the script was the best way of getting back to Sid, after all as real as Sid was to me growing up, he also existed in the play I had written. Diving back into the text after about six months was exhilarating like a huge splashing dive into an arctic lake (I guess). A lot came back to me which was a relief. I did actually have a solitary read through in a Costa Coffee at a well known Bristol retail park the day before rehearsals started. I had to leave before the end however as I was quite overcome with tears. I'd love to say it just pure emotion of revisiting the script but I'm pretty sure there was a degree of tiredness involved.
In the rehearsal room, new discoveries were made, old habits were broken and lots of words were stumbled over. I was in the curious position of every day finding old blocking and hazy lines reappearing at the front of my mind like a long lost lover on the horizon.
"Oh yes, of course, that's it, now I remember!"
And when things didn't quite work, if I said even the wrong word (that instead of the), my brain seemed to shudder within it's skull. Which in turn would make me move to the wrong place. However through perseverance and the wonderful external eyes of Jude and Jo, the show seemed to grow stronger and smoother throughout the week.
But what about Sid? Where was he in all this? On the second day, Jude offered a fairly innocent suggestion.
"Shouldn't Sid be brummy?"
Sid? Brummy? That couldn't be? I myself grew up in Birmingham and never had an ounce of Brummyness about me!
But then, I remembered the hours and hours of videos I'd watched and I recalled the excruciating horror of my ten year old self reciting poetry to a congregation of Bangladeshi doctors on a stage somewhere in these fair isles.
Theatrical? To a point.
Oh my God.
Strictly Balti, hours of tapes, the search for Sid, none of this was about remembering other people. The person I'd most forgotten was myself.
This week of rehearsal has been a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with my younger self. And now that we've found each other again after so long, we're going to spend some serious time together.
Edinburgh's supposed to be nice in the summer...
So less than six weeks until Strictly Balti plays the Edinburgh Festival fringe. When Travelling Light commissioned the show last year, Edinburgh seemed a long way away. However, rather than creeping up on me, I have been joyfully caught in its' headlights for the last six months, making plans, sending emails working on copy...
Aside from actually doing the show (which I love), I can't wait to be back in the Scottish capital. The last time I was in Edinburgh, it was nearly fifteen years ago. One of my first ever acting jobs was a beautiful trilogy of mini plays called Cornershop. All three plays, each set in different corner shops, looked at the diaspora of British Asian experience. We had one Muslim writer, one Hindu writer and one Sikh writer. We covered most bases. The show was produced by Man-Mela, a fantastic British Asian theatre company and directed by Dominic Rai.
On the first day of rehearsal, as we shared our names and cultural backgrounds, there was a wave of amusement when I stated that my parents had originally come over from Bangladesh. I was later informed by the rest of the cast (most from Indian and Pakistani heritage) that not many Bengalis found their way into the arts and also that the people of Bangladesh were often a source of amusement for the rest of the subcontinent. As I said, this was the first day.
Circumnavigating this particularly Asian prejudice was fine and the people were lovely, warm and generous of spirit. However there was one issue. I was never quite Asian enough. I didn't appreciate Bollywood, I didn't know my Shah Rukh Khan from my Hrithik Roshan, my pronunciation was generally incorrect and I was far more into Bill Evans than AR Rahman (I still am although I've found an appreciation for the latter). Indeed for a number of years during the late nineties, I often felt like a man apart. I was too English for the Asian Theatre scene but too Asian for the mainstream. It didn't stop me working, it just meant that rehearsal breaks were sometimes uncomfortable. All the other Asian actors were laughing at something excruciatingly funny. Apart from me.
Fast forward to last year and Travelling Light, having seen my first solo show, The Tiger and the Moustache, wanted to make a virtue, a feature of this confusing, conflicting clash of cultures. For the first time as a British Asian actor, I was going to tell my story. Whereas 'Tiger' had been my mother's story, in Strictly Balti the bewildered boy that I used to be was going to take centre stage.
And now it's here or at least six weeks away.
Six weeks until the greatest theatrical showcase on the planet.