Unpopular Culture follows writer and performer Tahira Dar as she confronts the fears and failures that she faced as a child growing up in an environment that wasn't welcoming, and the fears she currently faces as a mother. Following being asked "what did you want be when you grow up?" by her daughter, she spirals as she recalls the smaller moments that have subconsciously affected her negatively.
Opening with this question, we're immediately whisked into Dar's internal journey to rediscover her childhood self. The show does well to dissect the issue of casual racism without deviating from Dar's own experiences. By opting to focus more on how lost a child of immigrant parents often feels, Dar tackles this with a raw honesty, as she explains how incomplete she's felt. As someone who comes from a similar background, I can attest that Dar perfectly describes the sense of simultaneously belonging and not belonging to either culture, whilst being raised in both. The perspective that Dar approaches this subject with, provides a new and defined lens to a subject that few shows are as well-equipped to tackle. Opting for a more minimalistic storytelling that appeals to everyone, Dar ensures that the audience can all relate to her experiences in one way or the other. Whilst the focus and subject matter are quite deep, the show is mostly light-hearted, with a number of imitations, dramatic moments, interpretative dance, song and even a little rapping. The tone remains jovial, without diluting the seriousness of the situation, and Dar is a master at balancing the two in a natural way.
The staging is minimal yet immediately we feel familiar with Dar. Arranged as a living room, with tables, chairs and a number of 'family portraits', these expand her world, and provide further understanding to how her two vastly different worlds have influenced her. The show uses sound and lighting to create an environment, but perhaps a little too much so. We often understand how we are meant to feel before Dar performs, and at times, it breaks the flow of the narrative. It's an effective method but the show could do without, or in a smaller scale. The music used throughout is chosen carefully, bringing in the expected elements of Bollywood (performed by Dar), yet is slightly too loud, drowning out her performance. However as this is a work in progress, it's understandable that the show is still experimenting with the specifics. The show also uses projection and voice overs to really emphasis certain themes, and reminds us that Unpopular Culture is merely one story in the millions of others. Using quick clips of other famous people of colour sharing their experiences, obvious incidents of Racism on live TV and the lack of diversity in media, these moments become a solemn war cry for the need of more representation and education.
Dar is unapologetic in exposing the irony in the advantages of being a minority, discussing grants and quotas, and enjoys the cheeky mockery of herself and this show stemming from this. Dar's greatest strength is using her onstage persona and real identity to meld together, washing the audience with the feeling of frustration, fear and instability. She also manages to create distance from the more painful moments of her grievance by elliviating the tension through humour. By (literally) donning a multitude of hats, we see her become a singer, a Bollywood heroine, a judge, a critic, a hopeful performer, an actor, a rapper, a fangirl, a Mancurian and a rapper, each bringing their own unique characteristics to the show.
Unpopular Culture is a personal story that packs a lot of heart and hope, and is a wonderful small production that deserves to find its stage and spotlight soon. By touching upon her own experiences, it becomes an important story about humanity, and becomes a full-circle show as it ends on her breaking the cycle for her daughter. Its a remarkable and moving show that's destined to stay with you for days after. It may currently be a work in progress, but I believe its a masterpiece in the making.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review