Offering up a hedonistic, rambunctious take on modern dating, sorting out your career, moving out of your parents’ flat, and your over-achieving sibling passing away too young, Ellora Kamineni’s love letter to brown girls is a red hot tragi-comedy solo show. With flourescent personality and hysterical risqué hijinks Coconut offers up her insight. From the crushing expectations of her parents, to the cultural anticipation to “go into a brown career”, making sure someone isn’t just into you because of your ethnicity, and inevitable tumultuous family dramas. A wily, defiant, and self-assured central performance gives rise to cultural nuance and hilarious insight into a young brown girl’s approach to the world. With an exaggerated debaucherous and bitchy central character, Griffin Theatre Co unpack important themes with verve and charisma.
Coconut (the otherwise unnamed central character of the piece a la Fleabag or Skank) is ready to leave the gripping expectations of teenage life behind to start her career as an actor. With shifts in Primark funding her wallet, and a gig in a shaving advert on the horizons, everything is looking up for Coconut. She dons a necklace branded with ‘Ben’s Bitch’ on it, a reference to her boyfriend that she meets for cheeky hook-ups in the changing rooms at work, but when she meets a banker and Golden Retriever-in-human-form, she considers whether it’s time to take her love life up a notch – either way feeling as though she’ll disappoint her parents. Meanwhile, her dead sister’s boyfriend keeps turning up to family dinners… How long will it take for things to come crashing down?
The acerbic and sharp writing in this piece leaves little to the imagination, with fantastic effect. The contradiction of Coconut’s hedonistic love life and choice in risky career thatch weaves of discontent between the expected values embedded in her upbringing and the aesthetically indulgent feelings of her present late-teens-early-twenties life. The language is richly coarse, Coconut’s approach to those around her prickly and instantly distrusting, almost nihilistic. She thinks she sees people for what they are – her parents just want to make a trophy out of her, Ben just wants her body, the banker wants to satisfy his romantic indulgences, and so on. The crushing realities of these things come back to find her later on, and we see genuine growth in her character that finds eventual comfort and authentic personality in the emotional turbulences of her life.
Story-wise there are some things that are left a little incomplete, especially the section that considers the future of her acting career, I’d like to see some more reflection on what led Coconut into acting and a feeling of where her career might be going by the end. In terms of the actual acting on offer, there are lots of high moments and the rapport between the audience and Coconut feels warm, despite the vicious nature of her attacks on the people in her life. The occasional performances of the characters around her are also over-the-top, but could maybe do with a little more physical distinction to match the impressive vocal tone shifts that the actor achieves.
The character seems to aim at unravelling the experiences of trying to have a fun, debaucherous and chaotic young adulthood and how it contrasts against expectations from society on all sides. Her exaggerated bitchiness helps unpack this, and then the arc that sees her learn comes across as pertinent and emotive. Although the actor sometimes trips over herself with lines, this will likely come along as the run continues, and I saw it in very early days.
The absolutely lovely cast and crew of this show at the end explained that the piece is new and work-in-progress, and I hope they get all the support and warmth they need to continue developing this story. There were some technical difficulties likely heightened by early-run nerves. This is a really fun show with an exciting ethos and outrageous personality that never loses sight of its’ ambitions in pulling apart expectations and their relationship to ethnicity in the UK.
Recommended Drink: Coconut is best paired with a lovely Malibu and Coke, of course.
Catch Coconut at TheSpaceTriplex – Studio or theSpace @ Niddry St (Studio) until August 19th (times vary by date). Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.