EFR - Reviews of Lifted

Lifted

Fri 5th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Anna Livesey

at 09:12 on 18th Aug 2016

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There aren’t any bells and whistles in this one-man production of 'Lifted', a play by Sara Shaarawi and Henry Bell. It’s fifty minutes of one man, sitting in a chair, talking about his life, and occasionally getting up to pace the stage. But one witty and incisive script, and one incredibly talented actor is a winning combination here, and the play tells so much more than one story.

'Lifted' introduces us to a Scottish-Pakistani boy, Anwar, and to the web of his heritage, allegiances and identity. Over the next fifty minutes we come to know him intimately, but we never quite know it all. This slow release of information is controlled expertly by Shaarawi and Bell, who have the courage to maintain the banality of Anwar’s chatter right up until the play’s final quarter. A few blasé references to police brutality and racism are slipped in seamlessly early on: strong enough to trouble us, but without preempting the play’s climax. So, the police are “f*cking racist” but they’re “worse after they’ve watched 'The Wire'”: comedy softens the edge of a hard political undercurrent.

This is a fiercely intelligent script, and genuinely funny too. But, of course, the writing would fall flat if it wasn't carried off so immaculately by Ikram Gilani, the man behind Anwar. Gilani inhabits his character entirely. It becomes evident quickly that he has honed every movement, from regular readjustments of his snap-back, to a rarer and more telling twitchiness and tugging of his ears. At no moment does this characterisation slip, or Gilani’s energy fall.

But in a one-man show it’s important to offer more than a single character. Luckily, Gilani is an expert impersonator of the other characters that permeate his monologue: through him we are introduced to his Kuwaiti ally Moody, a school bully from his past, a bunch of Scots thugs, and numerous other voices and personas. Shaarawi and Bell place us firmly away from Anwar’s perspective, and Gilani has the skillset to handle this.

I do have one quibble, however: the fifty minutes feels too long. Even with such an engaging narrative and Gilani’s flawless pacing, my attention wanes after the half hour point. I find myself drifting away from Anwar’s story exactly at the moment which should have most gripped me. But shave off a third of this wonderful writing and you have a near-flawless production from Triad Pictures.

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Ellie Bartram

at 10:11 on 18th Aug 2016

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A powerful monologue delivered by Ikram Gilani (Anwar) opens the floor to a much needed discussion on immigration, identity and racism in today’s society. What entails is a police interrogation of Anwar, who is held and questioned on the whereabouts of a friend from the University of St Andrews.

Writer Sara Shaarawi sensitively addresses challenging issues, yet retains a bold and assertive tone. She handles the play’s themes with great innovation: Shaarawi’s script is original, political writing at its best. ‘Lifted’ is certainly one of the most thought-provoking shows of this year’s Fringe.

We follow Anwar’s harrowing experience with the police, as the show is set entirely in a prison, and there are many distressing and claustrophobic scenes in which themes of racism and police brutality are addressed. Questioned about his friend from Kuwait, Anwar divulges information about Moody’s admiration for England and the Queen. His words are soon twisted by the officers and the atmosphere quickly darkens.

It is largely unclear as to whether Moody is indeed involved with any definite acts of terrorism. This pushes Anwar to question the motivations behind his police interrogation. He reflects on past experiences shared with Moody in an attempt to make sense of his current situation. Is he held in custody because of his drug dealing, because of his plan to prolong Moody’s time in the UK through a sham marriage, or is Moody involved in something dark after all and has Anwar been dragged down with him?

The narrative switches from this police interrogation to more intimate scenes, in which Anwar vocalises his thoughts and emotions. This is a powerful performance exhibiting Ikram Gilani’s sheer talent and flair. As for the scenes of inner monologue, he reflects on previous encounters with racism as a young Scottish-Pakistani man, and how they parallel with his current situation of detainment by officers he declares are similar to those from 'The Wire'.

A freshness of character is exposed throughout these scenes: Anwar is refreshingly funny and full of confidence and charm. The audience is lifted into Anwar’s world from the very beginning and is transfixed by his narrative until the end.

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