Review: Hetain Patel - American Man - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 & 25 November
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 28 November 2016

Performance reviewed : Thursday 24 November

Hetain Patel is a brilliant imitator. Through gesture, language, costume and movement he fools us into believing that we are watching Barack Obama talking about his post-presidential YouTube channel; or Spider Man, or an offensive American chat-show host. His witty, multilingual banter, inventive word-play and body language paint a sobering dystopian picture of America in the future, when the internet has taken over human brains and bodies, where current power struggles have given way to misogyny and racism and where Caucasian, straight Alpha men rule supreme. It follows, then, that a prominent theme in American Man is the condition of being ‘white’. Patel’s pinky-white coloured body suit, which he reveals under his Spider Man costume and his additional props are all visual reminders of the importance of being white in this future world he portrays. Afterall, he announces in one of his advert impersonations, “why drown with the brown?”

There’s a hysterical section where Patel gives a tutorial in how to sit like an Alpha Male in three steps. Wearing shades and occupying large amounts of space, he has the power to turn every one of us from insignificant ‘beta men’ (and women) into arrogant alphas, promising us the added bonus of being able to ‘pull a honey’ every night.

Patel slips in and out of his many impersonations with verbal and physical agility. His script, co- written with Alan Morrissey draws on quotes, sound-bites and lines from American popular culture: advertisements, music, films, chat shows and speeches of men in power. It’s bity, biting and mostly coherent. He is the master of cross-referencing and satire: in one sentence he can impersonate Obama, speak in an Indian accent, and segue into his own northern one. He even does a great computer imitation – that of Stephen Hawking’s robotic voice.

There’s no end to his verbal skills. In another section, Patel, sparked off by a line from Eminem’s “My name is….,” spirals into a rap about identity with appropriate dance and gestures. Then there’s another rap about ‘cocks’ and ‘Asians’ which he blends to form the word ‘Caucasian’ with fitting cartoon actions to match.

However like any good comedian Patel doesn’t linger too long on any one act. Rather, he gives us fragments of sketches, not complete ones. Nothing is too literal, although there are words and gestures that are, but he keeps us guessing and makes us fill in the gaps. As he fluidly swims between reality and impersonation, authenticity and inauthenticity, we see glimpses of his own character enveloped in his web of verbal and visual disguises, like his teenage self who feels embarrassed about being Indian.

American Man builds on Patel’s previous show American Boy (2014) and while he is still preoccupied with identity and how we are labelled by it, themes in this new work are framed through the rather more sinister and disembodied landscape of the internet age; and nuanced by recent, scary events in American politics.

24 & 25 November 2016

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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