Approaching Empty

Ishy Din

Tamasha Theatre, Kiln Theatre, Live Theatre

Oldham Coliseum

11 April 2019 - 13 April 2019; 1hr 55min inc interval

Nicholas Prasad as Sully, Rina Fatania as Sameena and Kammy Darweish (r) as Mansha in Ishy DIn's Approaching Empty at Oldham Coliseum. Pics: Helen Murray

Ishy Din is the former Middlesbrough taxi driver who wrote the award-winning play Snookered, presented during the Coliseum's year away from home in 2012.

So he is, you might consider, one of the few writers who would have no trouble getting members of the audience home after his latest work, set in the office of a taxi firm. Also, that he's taken his own sweet time - seven years - to arrive...

But here he now is, and the first thing to say is that Approaching Empty, directed by Pooja Ghal, doesn't have the youthful energy of his former, first stage play - though retains Din's terrific sense of character, dialogue and place and is more complex.

Set amidst the death and funeral of Lady Thatcher in 2013, in a fictional town in the North East, Kings Cars is a victim of the ruthless business practices of the Thatcher era, and is sinking. Its owner and manager embody the polarities of the era. Owner Raf (Nicholas Khan) admires Thatcher's decision to discard old industries in favour of new ones, while his lifelong friend and manager Mansha (Kammy Darweish) espouses more honourable business ethics: do unto others...

But over a couple of weeks, Mansha seems to be on course to emulate his friend and employer. When Raf announces he is about to sell to the local taxi mogul, Mansha takes his chance to do something with his life, and with employees Sully and Sameena buys the business from the clearly over-extended Raf - little knowing that Raf is cheating him to pay his debts.

So honour gives way to ruthlessness - a business method much-admired by Raf - until with a couple of second-half twists, Raf gets his own comeuppance and an even greater business ruthlessness - intimidation - takes over the business.

It's an interesting plot, though the Thatcher thing is much in the air without actually contributing anything, and the final shakeout leaves virtually all those who tried to better themselves poorer and not all that much wiser.

But where the plot is a little woolly, the characters are very strong: Mansha runs the firm as an honourable man, not a bully; Raf is the opposite, keeping the workers down. His son Shazad (Karan Gill) seems a little weak but has still been cooking the books for dad, while drivers Sameena and Tully are feisty and stand-up for themselves without, like the play, achieving very much.

The evening is packed with Din's lively dialogue - some honed no doubt from years in similar taxi offices - while the energy level, while not as high as that of Snookered, is still more than a match for most plays of its kind.

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