Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 20th March, 2019
Ishy Din’s new play is set in a small taxi firm in the North East, run by brothers Raf and Mansha. The death of Thatcher has just been announced but, as we see from the way the action pans out, her legacy did not die with her. Hard-nosed businessman Raf, obviously ailing from something, offers to let his brother buy him out. Mansha seizes what seems to be a great opportunity, finding financial support to seal the deal from son-in-law Sully, and cab-driver Sameena. The trio have big plans for the business except it quickly transpires they have been sold a pig in a poke…
It’s a conventional piece in terms of structure and presentation, but what sets it apart is how it brings the British-Asian experience to the fore. Din’s writing is well-observed, naturalistic yet emotionally charged, and the characters are imbued with authenticity, thanks to the strong script and the excellent cast.
Kammy Darweish is superb as the downtrodden but optimistic Mansha, a man sold a dream that turns out to be a dud. He could have wandered in from an Arthur Miller (All My Cabbies, perhaps, or Death Of A Taxi Operator) while Nicholas Khan is in perfect contrast as the smartly clad, tough-talking Raj. Rina Fatania’s embattled and determined Sameena, working hard to get her kids back, is marvellous: we see how the attractiveness of the dream, the enticement of greed, can offer hope, and how devastating an effect it can have. Nicholas Prasad is excellent as son-in-law Sully in a nuanced and credible portrayal, and there are powerful moments from Karan Gill as Shazad, Raf’s son, endangered by his father’s business practices. Maanuv Thiara brings a touch of dark comedy and plenty of menace as Sameena’s thug brother, the true face of Thatcher’s legacy.
Director Pooja Ghal uses the close confines of Rosa Maggiore’s set to add to the tension. The characters have little room for manoeuvre figuratively and literally, and when violence erupts it is all the more effective.
As TV commentary from Thatcher’s funeral drones on in the background, the play speaks to us today. You can’t put money before people, is what it boils down to. Making a living is important but making a killing makes you a c*nt.
A thoroughly absorbing drama, powerfully presented. I’m tempted to say Ishy Din is the Asian David Mamet (and mean it as a compliment) but that would be a disservice to Din’s own distinctive voice.
Nicholas Prasad, Rina Fatania and Kammy Darweish (Photo: Helen Murray)
Leave a comment | tags: Approaching Empty, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Ishy Din, Kammy Darweish, Karan Gill, Maanuv Thiara, Nicholas Khan, Nicholas Prasad, Pooja Ghal, review, Rina Fatania, Rosa Maggiore | posted in Review, Theatre Review
THE LOVELY BONES
The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 31st October, 2018
Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel is brought to the stage in this compelling adaptation by Bryony Lavery. Essentially, it’s a ghost story, but one that is told from the ghost’s point of view. Our narrator is Susie Salmon, the 13-year-old victim of rape and murder at the hands of her neighbour Mr Harvey. What keeps young Susie bound to the Earth is her determination to bring the identity of her killer to light, her need to have her body found, and her refusal to accept death before she has really lived
Charlotte Beaumont dominates as the energetic, indomitable Susie in a lively and irresistible portrayal. Susie’s anger, confusion, frustration and especially her humour all shine through. As the story develops, we feel the loss of this innocent, lovely girl. Beaumont is supported by a strong ensemble to tell the story, several of them doubling up roles.
As Susie’s parents, Emily Bevan and Jack Sandle tackle the difficult emotions of losing a child, and the scenes in which Mom, but especially Dad, reminisce and ‘see’ Susie are particularly effective. Ayoola Smart grows up before our eyes as Susie’s little sister, Lindsey. Karan Gill is sweet as Susie’s would-be boyfriend Ray Singh and also very funny as Holiday, the family’s dog. Bhawna Bhawsar contrasts the authoritative role of Franny, Susie’s after-life guide, with the blasé weariness of Ray’s mother, Ruana. Pete Ashmore convinces as Detective Fenerman, and I particularly like Natasha Cottriall’s goth girl Ruth and Susan Bovell’s sardonic grandmother, Lynn. But it’s Keith Dunphy’s creepy Mr Harvey, disturbing in his ordinariness, who is my man of the match.
Lavery’s script is infused with dark humour, alleviating the tension and the grimness of the subject matter. Director Melly Still keeps the staging deceptively simple: the rape-murder is narrated by Susie while off-stage voices provide the soundtrack. As ever, what is suggested is more powerful than what is shown. The set, by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, is little more than a rectangle drawn on the floor, but the mirrored background affords us dual viewpoints of the action, as though we’re seeing two dimensions: Susie’s ghostly one, and the real world in which life goes on without her. This mirror gives some striking imagery: Ray and Susie rolling around on the floor become figures in flight. Emily Mytton’s eerie puppetry – the dresses of other victims – add to the ghostliness and horror, while Matt Haskins’s lighting and Helen Skiera’s sound frequently assault us, flaring up and blaring out, as though to remind us of the wrongness of Susie’s fate, as well as to jar Susie against the confines of her ghostly presence.
It all adds to up to a highly powerful piece of storytelling, funny, emotional, sickening, terrifying and moving. The show manages to chill, break, and warm your heart. An absolute must-see.
Innocence and guilt: Charlotte Beaumont and Keith Dunphy (Photo: Sheila Burnett)
Leave a comment | tags: Alice Sebold, Ana ines Jabares-Pita, Ayoola Smart, Bhawna Bhawsar, Bryony Lavery, Charlotte Beaumont, Emily Bevan, Emily Mytton, Helen Skiera, Jack Sandle, Karan Gill, Keith Dunphy, Matt Haskins, Melly Still, Natasha Cottriall, Pete Ashmore, review, Susan Bovell, The Lovely Bones, The REP Birmingham | posted in Review, Theatre Review