Culture Writer Zainab Rao reviews Shazia Mirza’s latest edition of Coconut, and complements Shazia for her undeniable confidence and shining charisma.
As I entered the Old Rep’s Studio, I had no clue how the night would unfold. I was vaguely familiar of Shazia Mirza through her participation in the show Pilgrimage, alongside a few viral clips of performances from tours many years ago. I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.
Her tour name, Coconut, refers to a derogatory term towards a person of colour who ‘acts white’ on the inside. It’s a term often prescribed to discredit someone’s connection to their culture. This title perfectly captured the tone of the evening, with Mirza light-heartedly satirising herself as a coconut to assert her self-proclaimed expertise on subjects such as Shamima Begum and the death of Princess Diana.
The show began strong, as Mirza interacted with audience members to build a rapport. She singled out a white couple and dubbed them as the evening’s Guardian readership – claiming that every audience has one. As audience members shouted where they had travelled from, Mirza had a quick quip to follow with her disdain towards a group from the Dudley being particularly amusing. This engaged the room with a level of nervous excitement as to who she was going to call out next. The consistent focus of Mirza’s attention, however, was the Indian family of 10 or so people sitting on the first row. Mirza observed that many of them were sitting as couples, leading to an interrogative-like bit.
This was made more amusing when Mirza was interrupted by two older men from the same group who had walked in late with bundles of popcorn, snacks and drinks. Despite trying to be inconspicuous, Mirza did not let them off lightly, subjecting them as the butt of her jokes as punishment. She claimed that they too were coconuts since brown people never buy food from outside, they always bring their own ladoos and samosas. This was particularly entertaining, and I found myself wondering whether Mirza had somehow planned where her audience would be seated as her timing and observational comedy was almost too perfect.
Later, however, it became apparent that this was not the case. The same men who entered the auditorium late, left and re-entered a further three times to buy more drinks. Mirza took this as an opportunity to poke fun at them further, implying that they were actually engaging in an illicit affair. This was a great comedic bit, with the targeted audience members taking her words lightly, until it slowly began to feel that their banter was bordering on disruption. Towards the end of the show, members of this group began to consistently shout out and make noise as an attempt to divert Mirza’s attention back onto themselves. This only showcased Mirza’s endearing and impressive ability to improvise, allowing the audience to laugh at what could have been an otherwise awkward situation.
Unfortunately, I could sense that like myself, other members of the audience were feeling uncomfortable and frustrated – especially when one of the men decided to shout out to his family upon re-entering the studio. Whilst this was a great show, I found myself slightly disappointed when leaving as it felt like a lot of Mirza’s actual material probably had to be cut. I blame none of this on Mirza, who did an excellent job at reigning the audience’s attention when disruptions occurred. Seeing how unphased Mirza was however, makes me wonder whether she’s used to this sort of behaviour during her performances.
Whilst Mirza spent some of her set denouncing the title of a ‘strong woman’, her ability to keep her cool under pressure and to perform jokes that can be seen as risky demonstrates that she is, at the very least, strong-willed. Mirza’s confidence on stage is undeniable, with her charisma shining through instantly.
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