As I watch Triad Pictures’ “Lifted,” I begin to wonder whether it has been drawn straight from life. Out on an estate in Glenrothes is there a guy plodding about who doesn’t realise that his life and voice and tiniest mannerisms have been “lifted” and put on stage here in the Surgeons’ Hall? Whilst I would hesitate to say that the story of the character which Ikram Gilani envisages for us is altogether authentic, there is something more immediate, a kind of freshness in the air around Gilani, which is. Anwar, whose story he tells, is an amalgam of several people who I have met in Edinburgh over recent years. I feel his reality keenly.
Anwar is the permanently relaxed drug-dealer, who is streetwise but never a predator. He can be cute, even flirtatious in his own chaste way, but he is very far from soft. He is usually too happy with life to be a danger to anyone, and yet he has to remain organised because there are a lot of people depending on him. I know the type. At the same time, he is the second or third generation Pakistani, who is completely assimilated in his accent and mentality, but who still obscurely covets the self-confidence of white, working-class men. Such characters are often homosexual, not out of any genuine desire, but almost because they see it as the consolatory sexuality which society has assigned to them. Again, I know the type.
It is difficult to grasp until you have watched Anwar in action. Just look at that classic expression in which his eyes bulge, his lips twist into a scornful, carefree smile, and his face shakes in disbelief. There – that’s it! – that’s authentic!
“Lifted” is written by Sara Shaarawi and Henry Bell. It was around at last year’s Fringe, for free and at the Summerhall, but, judging from the production’s then promotion, it has since put more flesh on its bones.
Anwar has been taken in by the immigration and border police. If I was him, I wouldn’t say anything, but if he didn’t say anything then there would be no play. His Kuwaiti friend Moody has been arrested as well and the police are entertaining a notion of Moody’s terrorist sympathies. We never get to the bottom of that, or indeed anywhere near it, and the play instead moves on to reveal that Anwar and Moody had discussed marrying in order to secure Moody a visa. It would be a much more interesting story if they had got married, but since they have not, this storyline has no destination either.
Anwar is rather too Scottish, as if he is intended as a textbook illustration of everyday modern Scottish nationalism. He is contemptuous of the English, with a gusto which we would dismiss as bigotry if it was articulated by a white, working-class Scot. His Asian heritage is thus used defensively, to vaccinate him with tolerance. This play is also excessively conversational, with Anwar speaking familiarly about Jihadi John and John Wayne Gacy, Jr. The real-life Anwar who I know wouldn’t bother with these things.
“Lifted” is often reluctant to disturb its own themes, with promising issues such as radicalisation and anti-Muslim discrimination being consequently set out only as helpful scenery. Even though Anwar is apparently facing jail at the end of the play, this has no urgency as a tragedy. He is resourceful and he will probably be okay. So what is the exact point of this drama? Well, I think that we are meant to simply enjoy Anwar’s company – they have dropped this angelic presence into our midst, with all of his immaculate, captivating details, and we are reduced to something like worship.