The Long Goodbye by Riz Ahmed – Manchester International Festival online
The live broadcast of Riz Ahmed highly personal piece, The Long Goodbye, is set back stage at an empty San Francisco theatre. Ahmed is on tour, which is indistinguishable in Covid times from being stranded. He is waiting for an audience that will never turn up, at least not in the flesh. The frustrations of keeping a performing career going during global lockdowns is just the start for Ahmed. A cultural figure with a growing profile and a current Oscar nomination, he has had time recently to look inward and to find a new way to express himself, as a rapper. The Long Goodbye is a cunningly filmed, unmissable performance driven by anger – at Britain, in particular, and the forces of empire that drove his father out of his home, in newly partitioned Pakistan, into a life of hanging on and making do in London.
Ahmed’s father died of Covid, made vulnerable by the factory work that had damaged his lungs. The racism he and his family experienced is the common immigrant experience in modern Britain, and Ahmed rages against the multiple levels of abuse he considers those from his country experience in the supposed motherland. The Long Goodbye is a live performance of the tracks from Ahmed’s album. He drifts through the empty theatre spaces, reclaiming them to spit out his message. The music uses hard electronics with Pakistani instruments, and fills the dressing rooms, backstage toilets and the theatre balcony. Ahmed does not hold back. His anger, so clearly genuine, is distressing but also compelling. This feels like a moment of catharsis, and the way forward can only be real change. Whether that comes is another matter, but The Long Goodbye is a show that comes completely from the time it was made, and it eloquently and skilfully expresses the experience of feeling like an immigrant in the country of your birth.