Small Scale Tour by Caroline Ross, published by Honno .
I loved this book. Started it Friday evening and finished it late Saturday night. True, I did little else in that thirty or so hours. Even as I ate I held it up at eye-level, keeping my meals as clean and simple as possible, avoiding greasy fingers on the text whilst urgently staying abreast of the character at the heart of the story. Ham(as in Noah’s son), is ‘resting’ from the stage whilst working twelve hours a day at the corner shop of Mr Majit Khan where in the evenings after a day’s toil, his employer likes a ‘chinwag’ with his intelligent shop assistant, who has acted in Shakespeare albeit a long time ago. Ham’s life is hard, but he maintains as far as possible a positive outlook, and in his sympathetic treatment of others, and his respect for his employer, the reader builds a genuine sympathy for him and perhaps hopes that with the turn of a page something wonderful will happen for this ageing and once-was RSC actor, and he might be restored to the kind of life and work he loved. Then Ham begins to write a screenplay about when he first became an actor, tasted love, and lived with a bunch of other, enthusiastic thespians. So the turn of the page brings not the future, but the past with all its attendant joys and pains, fuel for the play which is not coming along as well as the ‘chinwags’ ‘Thesp’ says Mr Khan ‘from which comes ‘thespian’, is an Afghan word,’ and it is apparent that in his world most of civilisation arose from the land he once loved but escaped from, Afghanistan.
Caroline Ross tells a magical story in thoughtful and elegantly readable prose. She describes the early days of Kicking Theatre, and with each chapter that takes us back into that past where Ham learned to act and found love, we experience him as a young man. The fifty year old in the shop of the Afghani proprietor is a ghost of the Ham that was. The story is full of the goodness of one human being to another, touching scenes are hidden and stumbled upon like cherries in a trifle. Here and there, the prose moves into play format, and it becomes less easy to follow so the purpose of these passages is hard to fathom. There is a troubled playwright within the story, so it can be seen to have a reflective connection, and it allowed Dionysus an active role, but it was hardly required to achieve meaning or add substantively to the essence of what is a well-told story with a tight and credible plot. Also reading something contructed as a play is not easy for everyone. For those with a background in theatre, there is a familiarity to this form, which they may enjoy, but for those who do not ever read scripts it is not that straightforward. That aside, I loved it and will watch for her name again.