Review by Sam Waite
The performing arts have always, to some degree, been political. From Shakespeare’s critiques of warring factions and the corruption that comes with power, to Jordan Peele’s steering condemnation of how blackness is viewed by supposedly forward-thinking white people, writing and performance have always been tools for furthering an idea. Theatre, with the benefit of live reactions to bounce off and the intimacy of sharing a space with the characters, is perhaps the perfect venue for such ideas. Thankfully, A Splash of Milk balances an awareness of this capacity for intellectual engagement with a genuine sense of humour, keeping up a constant commentary without dragging the energy down to do so.
Performed as a one-man piece by writer Sami Sumaria, the play puts us in the bedroom of Sunny. Sunny is a 27 year old South Asian man who, after what he describes as a “breakdown”, finds himself out of work and living with his parents again. The set is as simple as you'd expect from the small venue, but the littering of tissues, creased clothes and half eaten bowls of food immediately bring to mind the private space of someone reverting into their teenage self. Speaking directly to his audience as if narrating his own life, wannabe actor Sunny allows his phone to guide his storytelling through the various unfortunate circumstances he's encountered while dating primarily white men.
These stories are punctuated by a dimming of the house lights accompanied by the alert of whichever Grindr-esque app Sunny uses for his hookups. Sumaria as both playwright and actor manages the careful balancing act of telling a series of short stories while keeping up the central narrative of his young protagonist preparing for another of these encounters. Based on the experiences of himself and others in his life, Sumaria’s stories are relatable, eloquently told and often very funny. Sami Sumaria is a stellar writer, weaving together the moments of heartache and of levity to make you think about the world we live in while still being able to laugh at it.
He is also a talented performer, entering his stage with an already-present air of defeat and entirely embodying Sunny throughout the short runtime. One might argue that Sami and Sunny could be so similar that this isn't a challenge, but I would counter that playing a version of yourself who is exaggerated for an audience of strangers while still being grounded and someone that audience can connect with is quite a feat in itself. Never fully giving in to the sadness or anger below the surface of some of the more heinous acts of racism thrown his way, his performance feels all the more human and like a real person telling an imagined crowd their story. This creates the idea of Sunny’s having already processed these moments but still stung by them
Startlingly well-written and performed, the only thing about this production that keeps it from a perfect score is the limitation of the space. An issue I did find, nit-picker though I may be for it, was that the effect of the lights coming down and back up again to punctuate a scene change was at times confusing, and it wasn't always clear if time had passed or how much if so. Of course, this could be easily remedied by more resources being afforded to the production, which with the simple addition of a handful of items of furniture or decoration could move almost as exactly as it is to a larger venue without feeling out of place.
In a post-Cruise world we are more aware than either of the viability of a one-man show about a community often made to feel unwelcome. After seeing A Splash of Milk I deeply hope that the same affection and attention given to that show can be given to this powerful, unique and important new voice. ★★★★ A Splash Of Milk plays at the Hope Theatre until 10th December. Tickets from https://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/a-splash-of-milk/