Invisible ★★★★

Invisible, Nikhil Parmar’s debut play, is a dark comedy about one man’s struggle to be seen as the hero of his own story

Invisible begins with a worryingly pretentious speech from Nikhil Parmar to the audience what the play is about. It’s all moody emoting to the middle distance. Thankfully, when he breaks off and has another two takes at the intro, it is clear that this one-man show is going be rather meta and will play around with your expectations. 

All images by Henri T

Without revealing too much, this is the story of a British Indian actor, Zayan, whose career is disappearing fast. While he dreams of being the next James Bond, his best claim to fame is being dressed as a dancing bird in a fried chicken advert. The only roles he gets to audition for are doctors, cab drivers or corner-shop owners and he is not even successful in getting those. 

His personal life is equally in bad shape. Behind with his rent, he takes catering jobs or sells weed for his cousins. He has been dumped by his girlfriend and just to rub salt in the wound, her new boyfriend is a successful actor who has a leading role in a BBC – HBO drama. Beyond this, he has unresolved family trauma that increasingly weighs heavily upon him. Professionally he’s not being seen for roles, in his personal life, he begins to believe that he is being noticed less and less by those around him. 

Parmar is a superb storyteller. Breaking the fourth wall, as Zayan, he addresses the audience directly through much of the show. He is charming, engaging, self-deprecating and very funny. As he relates hapless stories such as losing his daughter’s pram, it feels like a stand-up comedy routine with him portraying himself as a loveable loser. Parmar’s skill in making eye contact with the audience engages you and makes it feel as if he’s telling his story to you directly. 

Scenes are dramatised with Parmar playing all the roles. With a dizzying display of accents and immediate characterisations, he conjures Zayan’s world for us. There are comic moments when he admits to the audience in an aside that he had been going to give his girlfriend a high voice but that would be offensive – and besides, he adds, she’s got quite a deep voice. Thematically playing multiple characters reinforces the notion of Zayan fighting to be the protagonist in his own story. 

Reflecting Zayan’s obsession with films – both watching them and wanting to be in them – at times, Invisible takes onboard the idiomology of cinema. Scenes are rewound and replayed. “If this were a film” becomes a familiar refrain. He even identifies the “inciting moment” for the audience. A confrontation between Zayan and his girlfriend’s new boyfriend and rival is imagined as a face off from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Elsewhere Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous cinematic scare is deployed with equally frightening effect. But these moments also reflect Zayan’s growing frustration of how people of colour are treated by the film industry. Arguments such as why a brown actor couldn’t be James Bond lead to broader and darker discussions of racism facing brown actors – and what extreme measures could be taken to be noticed.

While Nikhil Parmar has written and performs Invisible, credit is due to the creative team. Diane Alison-Mitchell as movement director and Georgia Green as director have drawn out a performance style from Parmar that is magnetic. The flow of his movements suggest both a conductor of an orchestra, giving the story its rhythms, and a dancer, gracefully plucking words and thoughts out of the air. Bella Kear‘s sensitive sound design wraps the emotional core of the story in a sensory echo chamber that always reflects and complements but never dominates. 

Parmar’s script and performance are powerful and persuasive. He soars both in the comedy and the tragedy of the piece. The single criticism of the show in its current form is that the one-hour running time is too brief for all that the script is aiming to say. There is a point where the narrative goes very dark indeed but it feels a little too much like pulling a lever rather than that section emerging organically. However, as a debut play, Invisible is a very impressive piece of writing with Parmar establishing himself as a voice worth looking out for in the future. 

Invisible is a show that needs to be seen – ★★★★ 4 stars

Invisible Tickets

The Recs reviewed Invisible at the Bush Theatre, London. It arrives in New York as part of the ‘Brits Off Broadway’ season at 59E59 from 13 June. 

Book Tickets