[Heaven & Hell walk into a bar…]
In the six-ish years that I have reviewed shows at Basement Theatre, I have never found a formula for writing about them. Regardless of my opinion, it requires a completely different approach every single time.
I do not like to lump different shows into categories, but one ‘genre’ I have noticed that keeps popping up in the Studio is the epic fantasy. The budget may be nil and the set may be a cardboard box but if you put the right ideas and words into the audience’s minds, the scope for performers is limitless.
Created and performed by Aman Bajaj and Bala Murali Shingade, Boom Shankar is the meeting point between workplace satire and end-of-life parable. With occasional dance numbers.
In logline, Shingade plays a bomb disposal expert who winds up in the afterlife after a workplace accident. Bajaj plays the celestial beaurocrat tasked with processing his arrival into heaven. As he processes what has happened, he relives moments from his life and considers the choices that have led him to here (here being the lowest level of Heaven).
Just thinking about this show, I can see where it could go wrong. The concept is big, there are a number of characters and mini-sodes, plus it is dependent (to an extent) on some specific audience participation. But it works. It works well.
There is a clarity of vision here which is summed up by Natasha Iyer’s set: a series of panels of glass or plastic positioned in staggered intervals in the middle of the room. Add a box for elevation or sitting, and presto! You have every location you could possibly need.
Hell is demarcated by glowing red light against the right wall of the room, a constant reminder that Shingade barely made it through the pearly gates.
That simplicity in execution is important because it gives space for the two actors to shine, while the audience can use their imagination to fill out the world.
As the title character, Shingade is personable and very funny. His timing and audience control are a joy. Bajaj matches him in a variety of roles, from a former angel in love to Shingade’s mother.
Operating on a spectrum from straight man and weirdo, they are a great double act who keep the show moving – there are a number of transitions necessary to the story, but it never feels clunky or confusing. Plus they found ways to work with members of the audience in a way that was both functional to the story and very funny.
While the themes are dark, the execution is the total opposite. This is a very silly show, where angels have performance reviews and the almighty insists on recurring dance breaks to Justin Bieber. Taken in overview, this view of the afterlife is pretty bleak, but in context the contrast between the supernatural and the super-banal led to some big laughs.
Definitely worth checking out – especially if you sit in the front row…
Boom Shankar plays Basement Theatre 8-12 June, 2021.