Isma Almas: Eager Beaver

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Isma Almas’s early attempt at her first hour-long show is something of a jumble. The autobiographical story jumps all over the place, many of the tales end in decidedly weak punchlines, and she’s a decidedly long-winded anecdotalist.

However, all is not lost. She’s an engaging presence with a warm, smiley personality and her experiences of growing up as the only Asian family on an all-white estate in Bradford offer plenty of opportunity to fascinate.

Her father was an oppressively devout Muslim who kept his wife in purdah – not just burkhaed, but virtually confined to the house – while he tried to blend in with the rest of his neighbours which, as a teetotaller, often proved especially tricky.

This childhood experience has given her the licence to talk with authority about fundamentalist Islam, which she gently teases with an impish grin rather than hectoring angrily from her soapbox, and proves the interesting backbone to the show.

However, many of the ancillary routines need to be sharper, while other unrelated scraps of material, such as the fact she currently volunteers for the Samaritans, don’t justify their inclusion in the show.

And while she is a natural at teasing out the underlying humour from the real-life stories, she often comes a cropper when she tries to extrapolate them out into exaggerated comic tales. For example, she can’t make some of the bizarre fatwas issued over the years sound any more ridiculous than the truth.

The timing of the Leicester Comedy Festival means that a lot of smaller shows such as this are actually early works in progress for August’s Edinburgh Fringe, and probably not ready be held up for scrutiny as stand-alone offerings – even if the people of the East Midlands are being sold them as the much more glamorous-sounding ‘world premieres’ [or ‘premiers’ as the programme inaccurately has it].

This, certainly, is a long way from the finished deal, as the tales need to be sharpened, the flow sorted out, and something done to avoid the audience staring at a blank stage for several minutes while Almas sets up a finale. But the landscape in which much of her stand-up is set offers a lot of potential; hopefully she can release it by the summer…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Leicester Comedy Festival, February 2009

Review date: 1 Jan 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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