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Ahir Shah: Astrology
Published on Wednesday, 10 August 2011

4 stars

Udderbelly's Pasture (venue website)
3-28 Aug, 5:25pm-6:25pm
Reviewed by Kirsty Leckie-Palmer

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

The poster for Ahir Shah’s debut solo stand up show Astrology is simple and arresting: he holds out an incandescent sparkler against a pitch black backdrop. I couldn’t think of a more pertinent visual metaphor for his act.  Ahir Shah is an intense, exciting performer whose act crackles with wit, his energy holding the audience captive until lights out.

A loose exploration of fate, Astrology introduces us to the concept of the janmaakshar – a Hindu prediction which was given to Shah’s parents at his birth, surmising how their new son will turn out.  He weaves his act around the various prophesies and their impact on his life: looking back (not so very far) with references to his childhood; assessing such immediate and demanding concerns of the present as his attire; and looking forward to his ambitions for the future.

Although a relatively young performer, Shah is in no way reluctant to steep his anecdotes in emotion. Oscillating between sleek, earnest erudition and exasperated, boyish bluster, he treads a tightrope of topics from Pokemon to Iranian politics. He also uses his space and his body in a highly evocative performance, one minute delivering precision hand gestures, the next curled in a near foetal position.  In fact, he has the energy to fill a room four times the size and still saturate his audience.

There were flashes of something a little darker; exciting moments when he showed traces of disregard for the audience in dogged pursuit of a point, or to create impact by repetition and aggressive enunciation. I found this particularly interesting. Such delicious conviction, especially when coupled with some decent purpose, is an ingredient of the searing, dauntless comedy which can pierce the world’s absurdity, shake off the shackles of spectacle and result in something insightful – the comedy of Hicks, or Stanhope.

But Shah's purpose here, though unusual, was a tad easy; I’d love to see him deliver some material with bite. Such energy and boldness would be well spent educating his audience, indeed at one point he does pick apart some political theory, shedding some light and packing in some well-ruminated jokes, before rocketing into a bit of immaturity for balance. His refusal to all but graze politics was intriguing, given his educational background in the subject – he even acknowledges that comedy and politics are closely related. Perhaps Astrology is a testament to his ability to touch on any theme, or who knows; perhaps he was playing it a little safe.

Astrology is light-hearted, unique and timely. Shah teeters on the brink of manhood. There are all kinds of detestable phrases such as ‘coming of age’ which would be both wildly patronising and inadequate descriptions for this sophisticated and exciting show. It's a professional, deliberate performance – and as I left the Wee Coo, I felt energised, challenged and thrilled.

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