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Punjabi Boy review at Hounslow Arts Centre – ‘subtle but slow-paced’

Suzanne Kendal and Diljohn Sidhu in Punjabi Boy at Hounslow Arts Centre. Photo: Tarun Jasani
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There is more than a little autobiography in Punjabi Boy, Amman Paul Sing Brar’s story of a British Asian lad from Hounslow who sets out to find himself in France.

Developed through the BBC Writers Room and the Royal Court’s Critical Mass programmes, it tells the story of Gurinder – Gary to his friends. He’s gifted but aimless, sensitive but pretentious. Diljohn Sidhu tackles these contradictions with flair, remaining sympathetic as his character crosses the line from teenage introspection to unhealthily self-indulgent adulthood.

A strong supporting cast provide him with some necessary perspective, amongst them a powerfully charismatic Avita Jay. Though not introduced until the second act, she brings energy and a naturalistic ease to a show that can sometimes feel dense with dialogue.

Mukul Ahmed’s direction is clear and steady, but does little to accelerate the slow-moving, episodic plot. While the script lacks momentum, it is peppered with fascinating tangents and vivid recollections. A description of Sikh celebrants bathing in a frozen Himalayan pool is particularly lucid.

Such picturesque images are undercut by an unpleasant vein of wish-fulfilment. Gary parades his (imaginary) relationship in front of his schoolyard bully like a trophy. Later, his wife turns up in a French maid’s outfit.

With the play’s unsettled tone and indirect arc, the audience is left to untangle these problematic strands for themselves. Though the mood is overly contemplative, this remains an intelligent exploration of the differences between loving and objectifying, between affectation and authentically belonging.

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Verdict
Subtle but slow-paxed new writing exploring themes of masculinity, tradition, and transgression
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