Fully Sikh is a well-named play; as the title suggests, it is a clever and wickedly funny production, one that is well-seasoned with wordplay and celebrates being fully Sikh. A joint production by the Barking Gecko Theatre and the Black Swan State Theatre Company, Fully Sikh is the theatrical debut of Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, a spoken word artist who made headlines on Australia’s Got Talent for a poem confronting racism. Written and performed by Khalsa, the play is an intimate look into her early years, as she navigated the complexities of growing up as a Sikh woman in Perth.
Performing alongside Khalsa is the play’s composer and sole musician, Pavan Kumar Hari. The two had a wonderful, playful chemistry together—as my companion pointed out, you could tell they were friends from the way they laughed together before the play had even begun.
The play mixes family, faith, and adolescence in a coming-of-age story that is both heart-warming and confronting. Being a ‘hairy brown girl’ (as Khalsa describes herself) in Australia in the early 2000s was a difficult, sometimes fraught affair.
Khalsa’s open, frank recounts of the racism she encountered and internalised are brilliantly done: little eye-rolls at a boy who can’t pronounce her name, a harrowing re-enactment of public humiliation during school swimming lessons and a fun pop song about taking a Westernised version of her name in an attempt to ‘fit in’—though if adolescent Khalsa had known the word, she might have said ‘assimilate’.
These moments are a good example of the way Khalsa mixed comedy with emotion, punctuating the play with both witty asides, painful honesty and moments of solemn reflection. While the ‘Turbanator’ sequence starts jokingly, through it, Khalsa reflects on the importance and cultural heritage of the act of wearing the Dastaar (the Sikh turban).
While there might have been only two performers on stage, Khalsa and Hari were more than capable of making up for it as they embodied the supporting cast of Khalsa’s childhood—family, friends, and even bullies all came to life with the right accent, posture, or music cue (each member of the family had their own). Stepping into the production felt like stepping into Khalsa’s life and home; we even removed our shoes at the door.
The set itself looked deceptively simple—a kitchen bench top split in two towards the back of the stage, in front of a matching full kitchen cupboard. Lines of washing and multi-hued scarves decorated either side of the stage and formed the backdrop behind it. But that simple set held a lot of surprises—a working oven, for one. With each scene change, the countertops and cupboards would transform at a moment’s notice into a teenage girl’s bedroom, a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), and most amusingly of all—a Woolworths.
Audience participation was a big part of the production, and while I’m not normally a fan—if I wanted to be up on stage, I wouldn’t be a writer—Khalsa managed to make it work. She was warm, welcoming and encouraging, pulling up fellow audience members to lend a hand in the kitchen and a head for the Dastaar. She even got us out of our seats to dance, which was as fun as it was mildly mortifying—it turns out screwing the lightbulb and bouncing the ball in time to the beat is a lot harder than Bollywood films make it out to be.
Khalsa’s pedigree as a spoken word poet was evident in every line—the dialogue had a rhythmic, lyrical quality to it. Khalsa likens the play to an 75-minute slam poem, and I’m inclined to agree—in a lot of ways Fully Sikh sounds and feels like a poem in motion. The play touched on both the personal and the political, which is fitting, too, as those spheres are the domain of the spoken word poem.
My only criticism of the play is regarding its length and pacing. On reflection, the play concluded with a fitting scene, but in the theatre I couldn’t help but be a little thrown at what felt like an abrupt end. The play itself was short, but Khalsa was sure to make the most of her time. I believe, had the play slowed down and perhaps lingered a little on the final scene, that would have helped alleviate the feeling of a sudden conclusion. You know a play was well-written when you want to stay for another hour, and your only complaint was its short run-time.
Fully Sikh was a witty, heartfelt play, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you’ve got the time to spare over these next few weeks, get up from your assignments and get down to the State Theatre.
Fully Sikh is set to run until the November 3, and I wholeheartedly recommend catching it before then.
For more details visit the Black Swan Theatre Company.