In fine art, there is an Italian term called chiaroscuro meaning ‘light-dark’ – now, this term refers to the clear contrasts that elevate the subject matter, it is dramatic and has a strong emotional effect. If there is a way to describe Alok Vaid-Menon's sold-out show, it’d be chiaroscuro. It’s a blend of waspish yet quick-witted humour, and hard-hitting moments of vulnerability expressed through spoken word poetry. The effect is emotional whiplash (that I’d like to experience all over again, please).
First up, the comedy. ALOK is unapologetic and holds no prisoners. They take on this slightly condescending and vain tone, describing elections as massive drag shows, pitying men who haven’t experienced the euphoria of having painted nails, how luggage weight limitations are queerphobic and their thoughts on marriage as a straight-up endurance test. It’s polished writing, and very funny.
Then out of absolutely nowhere, the coin flips. ALOK takes us from chuckling at luggage queerphobia to hard-hitting poetry in the blink of an eye. It’s incredibly disarming, and not only shows the vulnerabilities of ALOK but also acts to expose our own. What emerges from the spoken word poetry sections is a deep dive into ALOK being scared on stage – it’s a far cry from the sassy and blunt comedian we just saw.
Now, the spoken word hits where it hurts. The first poem is on their grandfather’s passing, they ruminate on their last moments and it’s truly a moment for ALOK to grieve. It’s beautifully written, with imagery like “tears punctuating the page” and musings like “death is the longest verb” – the lines have the same depth as ALOK’s prior jokes, albeit for a completely opposing effect. It connects with the audience on an emotional level.
After the poem, ALOK moves back into the comedy – completely ignoring, or suppressing, the gear shift that just passed. Punchlines relieve the tension built up in the audience, and we experience it all over again and again. This continues throughout the show, it’s almost hard to believe that it is contained within 60 minutes. Let me make this clear, it is not tiring. In fact, it is the opposite. ALOK has you on the edge of your seat listening to every single word they speak. Their charisma and performance are impressively seasoned.
ALOK’s show is self-aware and mature, it’s an hour of reflection. It covers the very serious issues of transphobia, racism and violence. It tells the story of ALOK’s vulnerability. It shows us ALOK’s radiant confidence today. To laugh cry or cry laugh – you’ll be doing both in this hour, that is if you can get a ticket for this now sold-out show.
For tickets and more information, visit edfringe.com