Basic Training is a one man show, but you’d be forgiven if when it comes to the curtain call you expect bows from a cast of the full 23 different personalities. The show is an imaginative and quick-witted retelling of Ashanti’s family life and his experiences in the US Airforce. Kahlil Ashanti is described as a comedian on his flyers but it’s clear he has many, many more strings to his bow. During the hour he body pops, raps, sings, dances, tells jokes, makes the audience cry, laugh and join in with enthusiastic applause and above all he acts. Given that he also wrote the whole show, it’s safe to say he’s talented.
His acting is superb, bringing a dizzying array of characters to life with just enough wry comic exaggeration to bring out the true to life humour in their manners and conversation. Some of his characters might initially appear stereotypical but as the drama progresses it becomes clear that Ashanti simply knows and recreates real people who are like that. The way he snaps between his mother and his younger self early on in the performance is sublime, somehow demonstrating the affection Ashanti obviously feels for her without diminishing the honesty of the performance. Ashanti is clearly not afraid to be honest; the performance does not shy away from the darker aspects of his life or his weaker moments. This only gives a greater feeling of triumph to the climax of the show.
Ashanti navigates a story that could easily slip into a maudlin Lifetime movie with a deft hand for comedy – at points he moved me from tears to laughter in seconds. One scene set in a taxi could stand alone as a master class of timing and character acting and his presentation of a friend with Tourettes is both caring and funny. Ashanti’s comedy does cover some topics that might be considered sensitive, but he deals with each with raw honesty and sensitivity and there’s not a single joke that fails to raise a laugh.
The whole show is technically adept, occasional blackouts and simple lighting changes heralding scene changes. It’s strange to say it, but in the moments when Ashanti moves from one side of the stage to the other, shifting character as he does so, it’s almost impossible to believe he’s the only man on stage. The telephone conversations that punctuate the show are also fantastically convincing in this regard. His physical comedy is outstanding from start to finish.
There is no flaw in this show. Not one. Go.