I make my way to the Gilded Balloon’s Turret, unsurprisingly situated at the very top of Teviot, and find myself a chair. The rows are already filling up and as the start time approaches I take a look around to see nearly every chair taken. I think it must be close to sold out, the crowd tightly crammed into a space the size of a middle-class Grandma’s living room. The Turret is definitely an intimate venue and following the introduction over the loudspeaker Akhbar has to howl “keep clapping!” during the applause as he struggles to squeeze himself through the wall of chairs to the stage in a timely fashion.
Knowing very little about Akhbar, I was glad to learn that the majority of his debut Fringe show revolves around getting to know him. In the age of social media, where everyone seems to have to pick a side or has an identity to defend, his history will read like one big trigger warning for some. A former banker, an ex-Muslim and the son of a Thatcherite and a Labourite, he explains that his childhood was mostly spent being confused as he tried to please both parents.
As you would expect, jokes about Islam, ISIS and Muslims are the lifeblood of the show and are insightful and consistently funny. The shock sometimes comes from the audience’s confusion as we wonder: is it okay to laugh at that? Without a doubt Not For Prophet contains the best joke about the Quran you’ll hear at this year’s festival! Akhbar never tries to put himself on a pedestal and his carefree style makes him easy to listen to and enjoy. While, of course, any discussion of Islam with a predominantly white audience is going to put some people on unsure footing, Ahkbar deftly balances this with lighter sillier moments. During the show we learn the Lord of the Dance hymn and even get to see Akhbar flex his Bollywood dance moves.
Yes, you read that right.
Photos by Steve Ullathorne.
Eshaan Akhbar’s Not For Prophet runs until 27th August at Gilded Balloon Teviot, 14:45.