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Approaching Empty – Tamasha, YouTube

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Writer: Ishy Din

Director: Pooja Ghai

It is 8 April 2013 and news broadcasts are dominated by the announcement that Margaret Thatcher has died. The event marks the beginning of Ishy Din’s play, which is set in the office of a taxi business run by British Asians in the north of England. The writer sets about examining the Iron Lady’s continuing legacy, with a particular eye on her famous assertion: “there is no such thing as society”. This recording is of the joint production by Tamasha, the Kiln Theatre and Live Theatre, which toured the United Kingdom in 2019.

The play’s essential theme is the conflict between greed-is-good capitalism and traditional values of family, friendship and community. The writer is not exploring new territory here. As far back as 1985, Hanif Kureishi’s screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette showed an Asian family adapting to Thatcherite Britain, but Din takes the narrative forward by a generation to a time when sons and daughters are inheriting the proceeds from properties bought by their parents, presumably in the 1980s, and looking for ways to use their windfalls to jump on board the capitalist gravy train.

Raf (Nicholas Khan) owns the taxi business, but he is in failing health and wants better for his son Shazad (Karan Gill), a driver during his break from university. Raf’s lifelong friend Mansha (Kammy Darweish), who is his manager, had been a unionised worker for a construction company and still harbours socialist ideals, but he is tempted to bid to take over the business, along with his ambitious son-in-law, Sully (Nicholas Prasad).

New driver Sameena (Rina Fatania) brings out Mansha’s sexist conservatism and she clashes with him until he sees her as a potential co-investor. Fatania’s aggressive demeanour suggests that Sameena is far from being a victim, but we are told that she was forced into marrying an abusive husband, has served time in prison (we assume for drug dealing offences) and is struggling to regain custody of her two children. In many ways, she is the play’s most interesting character and it is disappointing that Din does not develop her further. The hovering presence of local bad boy Tany (Maanuy Thiara) is a reminder that business dealings and criminal activities can often go hand-in-hand.

Din writes in the style of a British David Mamet, fast paced and punchy, but he allows over-plotting to put strains on the play’s credibility and makes the characters emotionally shallow. Rosa Maggiora’s design sets the play in a confined box, a magnified map showing local post code areas fills the back wall, with a dart board and a coffee machine to the side. The small space suits the filming well and close-ups of the protagonists heighten the drama.

The play takes a snapshot of our country at a very specific time and, put under a microscope, not all of what it has to say stacks up. However, director Pooja Ghai draws excellent performances and her intense production never fails to hold us in a tight grip.

Available here until 4 August 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Fast paced and punchy

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