Nikhil Parmar’s protagonist in his debut play Invisible keeps telling his story as if it’s a film – which, he continues to stress, it isn’t – yet for a script which tries to sell itself as one of such searing magnitude (about a man trying to become the hero in his own story), it sure feels like it would be a lot better as one. Ahead of a New York run at 59E59, the one-man show returns to the Bush Theatre for a second string of performances.
Zayan (played by Parmar) is pretty hard done by. He’s broken up with the mother of his baby daughter whose found a new chap he profoundly dislikes, keeps losing mobility items, and is struggling to revive his acting career for which his most prominent role to date is in a chicken advert. Despite this, he comes with a dry humour one would expect from an individual trying to find light wherever he can, given the circumstances. He twists his ex-partner saying she’s seeing someone (does she mean a therapist or a lover?) and gamifies cheap point-scoring between him and her new boyfriend Terence.
It’s light humour, though not enough to make this a dark comedy or produce anything more than a brief chuckle. Regular audience eye contact and constant self-editing (it takes three attempts for Zayan to get the play’s opening correct) goes some way to endearing us to his story, but it mostly generates a sense of imperfection and incompleteness which doesn’t exactly match up with a character who eventually becomes so resolute in his frustration at being relegated to a supporting role in his own life story.
I say “eventually”, because bewilderingly, there’s little sense of a plot until the very end. Is it his attempt to redeem himself as a father, an intelligent and critical discussion of fundamentalism, his experiences as a drug dealer, his coming to terms with loss, or his anger at being shoehorned into the same old roles in the media industry? Ironically, much like Invisible’s main character himself, nothing plot-wise immediately comes to the fore.
Perhaps this is intentional, almost as if we are joining him in a search for his life purpose, but there’s nothing which hints to that being the objective – particularly frustrating when Zayan is keen to show off his knowledge of narrative structures in film (including the whole ‘acts’ explainer) and love of movies and franchises such as James Bond, Indiana Jones and Django Unchained. All of this suggests the references – and all the many sub-plots – would be better served by Invisible being the film it very much says it isn’t. There’s even a damning monologue towards the end, set to – I believe – Billie Eilish’s Bond track “No Time To Die”, which is powerfully delivered by Parmar and suitably cinematic.
I get the sense its primary focus is on the prejudicial casting decisions which affect brown people – not least because we follow him auditioning for a role in a show featuring Hugh Bonneville (not Hugh Grant), and that doesn’t exactly go too smoothly – and that Zayan is pushed to do something shocking and drastic to capture the world’s attention.
If it’s beginning to sound quite dark in its premise, then you’re not alone in that feeling. It certainly feels like director Georgia Green had a chance to present this as a much darker – and, in my view, better – piece tonally than what it is currently: a light comedy with a disorganised plot, complete with warm lighting; swirling, exaggerated arm movements into new scenes; and a basic set design.
An upcoming off-Broadway run may well make it appear more grandiose on the surface, but ultimately Invisible is an assortment of ideas which could have been, when they very much should.
Invisible is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 9 June. Relaxed, captioned and audio described performances are scheduled for 27 May, 31 May and 7 June respectively.
Production Images: Henri T.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Invisible’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.