Hetain Patel: American Boy

Image credit: Foteini ChristofilopoulouImage credit: Foteini Christofilopoulou

Hetain Patel is neat. Disarmingly so. His piece American Boy is densely packed with his perfectly executed impressions of film and TV characters. There are enough quotes to send anyone watching into a frenzied and competitive check listing of their own, inevitably inferior, movie knowledge. The piece is essentially random and bitty, but Patel’s neatness, or rather smartness, sculpts this chaos onto an attractive, compelling and weirdly sensical collage of slick impressions.
They are impressive impressions – so impressive that I almost forget that they are happening – the faultlessness letting me forget the skill involved. It is virtuosity undermined by its own consistency: the complete slickness quietens the usual tensions that exist in a live performance situation. My initial anticipation is that some glitches or cracks might appear to reveal Patel’s ‘real’ or ‘normal’ character. This anticipation ebbs away and is replaced by a spooky realisation that he could just go on forever, reeling off impression after impression, moulding together strange ready-made pieces of a puzzle. We would never ever know what his voice actually sounds like. Who is Hetain Patel? He lists, repeats, squashes together and juxtaposes movie quotes (superhero/gangster/action), irreverently disregarding normal chronologies and painting new connecting lines between characters, words and postures. Many of the quotes are lost on me – or rather I recognise them but am not necessarily filled with the pleasure of knowing exactly where/who/when they are from. I am more au fait with the anomalies in the piece than the majority of pop references (it seems I’m not so savvy with the action movies, but I do recognise the Bruce Nauman impression).
Very satisfyingly, I feel extremely familiar with one particular impression that reoccurs throughout the piece, that of a regular guy off YouTube: specifically a Spiderman fanatic. I am not a spiderman fanatic myself but I am a YouTube fanatic – I am endlessly intrigued by the culture and subcultures of it. Generally we watch it in private, unlike cimema or theatre, and this allows for us to have much more personally tailored, nuanced and even secretive experience of it. It is Patel’s inclusion of the YouTuber, alongside Bruce Nauman and Michael Caine (‘You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!’) that acknowleges the randomness of how the brain builds and assembles itself – how ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture are not rated or valued by our brains as we might expect them to be – they inform or influence us in ways beyond our control, and it is very refreshing to see an artist, Patel, collect his own random selection of influences and share them with us, honestly and with unusual patience and passion.


Writer and performer: Hetain Patel
(using quotes from films)
Dramaturgs: Eva Martinez & Michael Pinchbeck
Choreographic Associate: Lorena Randi
Lighting Designer: Jackie Shemesh
Costume: Hetain Patel
Video & Set Design: Jackie Shemesh & Hetain Patel