‘Approaching Empty’ review
Time Out says
Poignant – if occasionally clunky – drama about an ailing north-eastern cab firm
Ishy Din is the taxi driver-turned-playwright who wrote the excellent 2012 Bush Theatre hit ‘Snookered’. It would be clearly cutting off his nose to spite his face if he didn’t write something about minicabs at some point, and here he is with his second play proper ‘Approaching Empty’, a drama about an ailing cab company, set in a fictional north-eastern town.
What Pooja Ghai’s production does very well is respectfully invoke the late-night camaraderie of a cab office. Nobody is here because they’re getting rich, or because they actively love the job. But it’s steady work for a small community of first- and second-generation Pakistani migrants trying to find a direction in this debilitated town. Quiet nights spent making idle chit-chat – the only real stimulus coffee from a crappy vending machine – are banal, but the people aren’t. Mansha (Kammy Darweish) and Raf (Nicholas Khan) are two old friends who have been with Kings Cars for years: Raf owns it and Mansha manages it. But Raf wants to sell up; and Mansha wants to buy. The only thing is, he’ll need some partners if he’s to scratch together the £75,000 cash-in-hand his old friend wants for it.
Din writes lovely dialogue, Ghai conjures a sleepy nocturnal atmosphere, and there is a very nice central performance from Darweish as the crumpled, weary but ultimately heartbreakingly optimistic Mansha. The device of having all the action take place around the death and funeral of Thatcher in 2013 – as conveyed by the tinny office telly – is a contrivance. But it’s not overplayed and allows Mansha and Raf some poignant reflection on their lives. Migrants who came over to work in the industries the Iron Lady shattered (and which appear to have shattered Raf’s health), both men undeniably have the right to be in this town, but there is a question of whether either has any real sense of purpose now the factories are gone, or if this is simply the place where they washed up.
Not so good, though, is the play’s plot: the story of Mansha’s quest to buy the firm unfolds with sub-Mamet predictability: you can easily guess within about half an hour how the whole thing will play out. Maanuv Thiara gives good psycho with his late-introduced character Tany, but ultimately the plot feels overegged and oversimplistic. Din’s characters deserve more.