Theatre Review: First World Problems 3.0 at Basement Theatre, 13 April 2021

It’s a large, vibrant and predominantly young ensemble cast that present this version of First World Problems, with scripts written during the strange and ominous year of pandemic and lockdown. Exuberance and humour sit next to heartbreak and remorse. Along with the bleeding out of identity and personality.

The cast is predominantly of Indian descent. The invisible architecture of ancient cultures is ever-present. These are your archetypes and they exert a powerful hold. When the British Empire took over India, they became the most powerful force in history. It also signalled the end of that Empire. India forever changed the British psyche. A lot of heartache and bloodshed followed before Independence was achieved.

India with its caste and culture was as strong as Britain with its race superiority. South Asians migrated to New Zealand for economic opportunity and basically because it was too hard to get to the Golden Kingdom of the First World, America.

Insular by nature and essential for survival and protection. When I was born in a small town in New Zealand, they still had racial segregation of Maori and Asian.

Progress was a hard fight, but significant change and maturity occurred over the Eighties.

A deeper thematic background to the six pieces of theatre that make up this third version of First World Problems. It is my first time to see this series.

Director Sananda Chatterjee makes the observation of catching your reflection on a shiny surface, wondering if that is still your face. It is also significant to highlight the trauma and social stresses that followed the Year Zero of the Pandemic. This may make this production a little different from the preceding ones.

We enter the theatre facing a row of seats on stage. We are part of the show and the effect is to dislocate a little. We are invited to merge and blend with the performers. They all take their seats on stage.

Don’t Go Under the Bridge opens as the introductory short piece and is significantly voiced by women only. An invocation to Mother for guidance.

Pearly Shells by Mereana Latimer features the one older cast member tonight, Ayesha Heble. This is Mother lost in reverie and time, dancing with her handsome adult sons and looking for her baby girl Pearl.  The narrative unfolds in layers like a classic Dennis Potter story. Memories are wonderful and full of joy but who is that fussy young woman, wearing too much jewellery and bringing her favourite food? Memory is your only comfort from tragedy. The piece ends with Burl Ives singing Pearly Shells.

My Name Is SRK is a devised piece with Daniel Fernandez leading a group of young men in an empowerment therapy session. Young males stoking their egos to become Alpha Men. Loud and funny even if a bit disquieting.

The Interview by Aman Bajaj and Tim Booth is the most overtly comedic of the pieces. Essentially a two-person dialogue with an excitedly nervous young man looking for his dream Accountancy job, and a strangely seductive and assertive young woman interviewing. Raucous laughter from the audience.

Mirror changes tone completely and we are back to family bonds and the power of mothers. More specifically mothers love. Also, a short essay on the inability to express emotion which can be as equally hard for women as for men.

!2 Years Too Late then is a powerful piece on this subject, with two brothers. A Prodigal Son returning.  Confronting family money, the patriarch and expectations. There is love and violence. Both are deep and intractable. Brilliantly done by the two young male actors.

Identity is complex and continues to be forever evolving for the Indian diaspora. This would have come under enormous pressure recently with the ban imposed on travel from the sub-continent.

There is a lot of humour and fun in the production. There is also incisive and deeply affecting probes into the heart. The production team can be congratulated for bringing this all together under such trying times. And in trying times Art becomes even more important.

Rev Orange Peel                       

First World Problems 3.0

Date: 13 Apr – 24 Apr
Venue: Basement Theatre
Presented By: Prayas Theatre
Tickets available here:
First World Problems 3 0