Star rating: ***
Leicester Square Theatre
Saturday 23rd January 2016
Sajeela Kershi is looking for answers.
To believe or not to believe, that is the question? Whether ’tis better to be a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, atheist or agnostic? That is another vital question in Sajeela’s search for meaning in life.
These are the big issues comedian Sajeela Kershi wrestles with in ‘Shallow Halal’. I say wrestle somewhat loosely though. More of that later.
She explains that she spent a misspent childhood seeing religious loopholes. That’s interesting in itself as you wonder why she considers it to be miss-spent. Does that indicate she feels she really should have decided what side of the fence she sits on and which religion she has most faith in? As she admitted, there’s nothing wrong with an inquisitive mind that questions everything to get to the truth or at least arrive at a firm decision one way or the other.
In a cosy and packed Leicester Square Theatre, Lounge, Sajeela enquires about the religious affiliation’s of the audience. There are quite a few Muslims, a few Christians, a number of atheists and a non-Buddhist in tonight! She finds there to be something good in every religion and wonders if she can cherry pick the best bits. She notes that many share some of those best bits of one another’s religion – to love one another for instance.
Considering she’s Pakistani I guess it would be quite natural for her to be a Muslim, but clearly she’s not comfortable going down that stereotypical route. She has a fascinating back story, part of which is rooted in the absence of her father (twice). Firstly his absence due to focusing on his career when she was ten years old (making him something of an absent father) to a permanent absence following the un-timely death of her father just before her graduation ceremony. These terrible events hugely impacted her faith and belief in God. If there was one how could he take away her beloved father? Not once, but twice? An entirely valid question to ask at any age, never mind at around 10 or 21 years old. Co-incidentally this is something Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss touched upon in his ‘Dark’ show last year. The loss of his seven year old sister, Jo, when he was just nine years old seems to have turned him firmly and devoutly atheist. Oh, not forgetting his parents were both atheists too!
I think these are questions for anyone suffering a bereavement to consider. All I will question is whether it is right for a grown adult to be lead by a decision made by their nine or ten year old self? Would the same adult making such a big decision back then still stand by everything they believed aged nine or ten?
This is quite a deep and personal topic, yet it was tackled very superficially and with nowhere near the depth I half expected considering the topic. She could have probed the audience a bit more rather than skipping along if answers weren’t forthcoming. I guess the clue was in the title ‘shallow halal’ and if Sajeela didn’t want to tackle it too deeply that was her prerogative. I think it would have made for a much better, more provocative and interesting show if she really went to town on examining the premise of whether there is one God, or many God’s or is their just one God masquerading under different names to suit different religious groups? That’s some meaty food for thought, but perhaps not one that lends itself readily to comedy – unless you choose to go down the route of insulting people’s faith and beliefs.
Talking of which this show had plenty of laughs throughout. Sajeela has an interesting story to tell re her upbringing in Pakistan and return visits including the strangely terrible and bold, public sexual assault visited upon her, resulting in some poor man getting on the wrong end of a good hiding from her. It may sound terrible but the punchline to this anecdote was unexpectedly hilarious.
She banters amiably with the audience and finds her most distinctive, authentic voice when retelling deeply personal anecdotes. When she’s not doing that, to me, her intonation is indistinguishable from many other up and coming female comedians.
The feminist in her isn’t a big fan of burqas. She cheekily wondered if they’d ever invent leather burqas. I have news for her. They exist already. Nigella Lawson was famously pictured on holiday wearing her ‘burkini’ in 2011.
Shallow Halal is a consistently entertaining, funny, light-hearted, yet at times quite dark and often deeply personal examination of faith, family and relationships as experienced by Sajeela Kershi. It’s gently provocative and thought provoking but never offensive. Thus, in her quest to find a faith to hook her belief’s on she wasn’t dismissive of the fact there could be a God and she wasn’t an atheist either. Nor did she have much time for some of the famous atheist’s, Richard Dawkins, theories. She is wholly agnostic.
Sajeela is still looking for answers. By way of research she asked the audience if their prayers had ever been answered. Few answered unfortunately. This meant that they either don’t pray, their prayers weren’t responded to or perhaps, few wished to share their faith publicly. I find that odd though considering the subject matter of the show and considering that people presumably freely chose to be there, so why be shy? It would have made for a more stirring show if more opinions from the audience had been aired. Then again, considering the mix of faiths represented we might have needed Jeremy Kyle or Jerry Springer on hand to keep control! Neither of whom were present. If only Richard Osman of Pointless fame was there (he was present for the ‘Immigrant Diaries’ show the night before) so I guess when it comes to crowd control with his towering 6”7 presence I don’t think anyone else would have beeen required.
As a Christian I’ve had prayers answered – for jobs, difficult personal situations resolving themselves and achieved other successes stemming from prayer. These are results which I could not have achieved alone, despite often, perhaps naively, in the past thinking that I could control the outcome of everything! I’ve heard countless testimonies of the power of prayer and healing including people being healed of bad back’s, bad legs and being able to walk again without the aid of a walking stick. I also recall hearing the account of a woman defying medical science that said she could not have children. She ended up giving birth to healthy babies much to the pleasant surprise of her doctors.
Millions of Christians will testify to the power of prayer and healing. Obviously everyone has the free will to believe or not, or to establish their own beliefs and find their own faith. There are plenty of churches out there and online resources to help people make up their mind. In this day and age, with all this information out there, I wonder whether there is really a need for anyone to be agnostic or atheist?
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
- Seven things that prove that God is real – Charisma News – 20th March 2014
- The Cross and the Switchblade book review – 17th February 2015
- Welcome to London: Immigrant Diaries – Sajeela Kershi – 30th January 2016
- Daniel’s Loss, Daniel Sloss – The Dark Review – 14th August 2015