The standup scene in India has grown exponentially in a relatively short space of time, so it was inevitable that it’s bigger stars would begin to find their way over to the Fringe. The name Anuvab Pal will be familiar to anyone who listens to the Bugle podcast, having been a frequent co-host during the revamped fourth season. Unlike the young bucks that tend to make waves here, India’s finest is a middle-aged professorial type whose style is that of a wryly funny history lesson, taking the shape of his observations on the British empire and its legacy.
Pal brings his post-colonial perspective to bear on the charmingly small scale of British corruption compared to the Olympic-level standard of Indian politics, how the British ran the Raj for 200 years and left almost overnight with no ceremony (“the first Brexit!), and the remaining imprint of colonialism seventy years on. He approaches each subject with the same gently satirical eye he brings to Indian current affairs on the Bugle.
However, not only did the departing Brits leave Pal his accent and his education, but it looks like they also infected him with same politeness he ascribes to the erstwhile colonisers. He has a muted delivery that occasionally feels a little one-note, never breaking beyond mild exasperation despite his fondness for some choice residual Anglo-Saxon. Some more fire and brimstone would be welcome, or at least a touch of the zesty exuberance fellow debutant Ivan Aristeguieta brings to his own Third World perspective on the West.
What Empire does have is good pacing and an elastic structure that looks to be the product of infinitesimal fine-tuning. Pal has been performing a variant of the show for at least three years, and he has figured out which material will work best with Indian, and which with Anglo audiences. For example, his routine about the Indian aversion to discussing sex in any kind of detail is presumably reserved for us. Perhaps he’s unaware any openness here is a relatively recent thing, which is probably why we still find it funny.
While Empire maintains a high standard of writing and no little intelligence, genuine moments of hilarity are few and far between. Instead Pal peppers his routines with wordplay and specific details that act as amusing embellishments. As such, the audience was respectable in both size and demeanour; appreciative rather than boisterous. Noone will leave feeling short-changed, but a show based around variations on one theme would benefit from some more vim and vigour in its presentation.