AUNTIE, the new one-man comedy show from East London-based performer Gavino di Vino offers a new perspective on the African immigrant experience. Having already made appearances at Glastonbury, the Camden and Edinburgh Fringes and been filmed for a forthcoming BBC 3 documentary Queer Britain, Auntie makes the Ritzy her living room for one night only on 23 May.
Auntie is your stereotypical overbearing mother. Brash and judgemental, she laments the life choices of her gay, mixed-race son Mtoto, as well as the expectations she had of life in the UK versus what she got. “I thought I was going to live on a posh estate,” says Auntie, “but he put me in a council estate.”
Born to a Kenyan mother and a Liverpudlian father in Birkenhead, actor, writer and linguist Gavino di Vino moved away from his mother at the age of eight to live with his father in Wigan. Cut off from African culture in a place he describes as “famed for its pies but not so much for its diversity”, Gavino found a window back into that world through Nollywood films and Jocelyn Jee Esien’s sketch show, Little Miss Jocelyn.
“Auntie’s not based on one person” explains Gavino of his character, “but on a combination of voices. I have an East African mother, but I have this West African vision of what an African woman is – this hybrid identity.”
It’s a characteristic that Gavino plays on heavily throughout the show. Auntie came to the UK from the fictional African nation of ‘Kengeria’ wearing a gele on her head and a Kenyan flag around her waist.
It was this clash of East meets West Africa that paved the way for Auntie, but it wasn’t until Gavino moved to London for university nearly three years ago that AUNTIE would fully materialise.
“Living in East London I get inspiration every day,” he says. “You’ll have the yummy mummies pushing their prams down Ridley Road market on their way to some trendy café, then you’ll have Auntie selling her wares on a stall, then you’ll have Mtoto going and buying some things for his drag show, so all these things will be happening and I just find it fascinating.”
Jokes aside, AUNTIE doesn’t shy away from controversial issues. From immigration and gentrification to religion and homophobia, the show takes an in-your-face approach to race and identity in London.
The character of Mtoto, is Gavino’s interpretation of what he would have been like had he grown up in London. An “east London queen”, Mtoto clashes with his conservative mother and questions how growing up in London affected his own identity. “It’s placing my own experiences, and the kind racism and the difficulties I experienced, in a London context,” says Gavino.
“It’s an exciting time to be doing this.” He adds. “I think people have xenophobia in their minds, and when they see my show they’ll be able to read things into it. I’ve had people laughing all the way through and then coming up to me afterwards and saying, ‘Oh my gosh that was so intense’.”
AUNTIE opens May 23 Upstairs at The Ritzy at 7.30pm. Tickets are £5.