Brown Girls Do It Too Live at the Soho Theatre review: culture clash comedy with electric chemistry
If I’m completely honest I’m probably not the natural demographic for Brown Girls Do It Too. I’m not brown, as in Asian, and I’m not a girl. Yet there is something so bracingly positive about this onstage iteration of the hit BBC Sounds podcast it should resonate with anyone who has a heart.
Much of the appeal is down to the innate charm of the two sports gear-clad hosts, Rubina Pabani and Poppy Jay, who chat about everything from curry to orgasms on a pastel-hued set dressed to resemble your typical 1990s teen bedroom. Posters of Friends and Destiny’s Child adorn the walls alongside images of Mr Blobby and Peter Andre.
The duo get the balance of sincerity and mischief spot on as they recall growing up in strict, traditional families where women were supposed to know their place. Pabani and Jay were torn between cultures. While they were thrilled to see Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham they desperately wanted to be her co-star Keira Knightley.
Their show, entitled Mama Told Me Not to Come, is predominantly a mix of chinwags on the onstage bed and sketches, which are mixed, but far more hit than miss. There are echoes of groundbreaking BBC series Goodness Gracious Me here, but with extra references to masturbation.
If frank sex talk is Pabani and Jay’s calling card there is more going on than smutty exchanges. The show includes Bollywood dance send-ups and Star Wars skits. Jokes about body hair and Suella Braverman. Quips about sheltered upbringings and Priti Patel.
There is a running gag about being a coconut, brown on the outside, white on the inside, and a particularly comical riff about what constitutes being a race traitor – crimes against ethnic heritage include having beef wellington at your wedding and “doing yoga with a white yoga instructor”.
Occasionally the show feels more scripted than the podcast, probably because it is. But the duo have the kind of chemistry that makes you want to pay attention whether it is spontaneous or not.
Pabani and Jay use their easily accessible comedy to smuggle in serious points about trolling and sexism in the Asian communities. They recall being told after a certain age that they could not play outside any more and had to stay in the kitchen with their mums They compare their patriarchal culture to a kind of reverse Titanic: “Men first, women and children last.”
Things are changing, they add, but there is still some way to go. The show concludes with the duo dropping the humour and reading out letters to their mothers. It is a deeply moving finish to a show that is as life-enhancing as it is entertaining.
Soho Theatre, to June 10; sohotheatre.com