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.