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STAGE REVIEW: A taxi ride to Thatcherism – Approaching Empty

APPROACHING EMPTY by Ishy Din; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray - Credit: Archant

TIM WALKER’s stage review of Approaching Empty.

The Kiln Theatre in north London has once again made good on its stated mission to encourage artists of all ages and backgrounds with its latest production, Approaching Empty. It is by Ishy Din, a former cab driver of Kashmiri origin, whose family made their home in Middlesbrough. Happily, Din has, in middle age, found where his true vocation lies.​

Three years ago I caught his play Wipers at the Watford Palace Theatre and will admit that I was startled when I met its personable writer afterwards: how could a former cabbie write so assuredly and fluently about the role that South Asian troops played in supporting British forces during the First World War?​

Of course it is necessary only to think of what a fine job Kazuo Ishiguro made of The Remains of the Day to see that the best observers and chroniclers of this very idiosyncratic nation of ours are very often – and arguably necessarily – outsiders.

Din’s latest tale is, however, set in a milieu with which he is intimately acquainted: the control room of a small provincial cab company. Raf (Nicholas Khan) presides over it with his trusty friend and lieutenant Mansha (Kammy Darweish). On the television in his dingy office, the news comes through of Margaret Thatcher’s death and Mansha greets it with a single word: ‘bitch’.​

As repulsed as he may affect to be by the materialism espoused by the former Tory prime minister, he sees an opportunity to get rich quick himself when Raf announces that the business is for sale. He gets together a consortium that includes one of his lippy drivers Sameena (Rina Fatania) and his young gofer Sully (Nicholas Prasad), but sadly the Thatcherite dream soon turns sour for them all.​

Raf has been cooking the books and the firm they have ploughed their savings into turns out to be a bottomless money pit. It is only when Sameena’s violent estranged brother Tany (Maanuv Thiara) arrives on the scene and takes Raf’s aesthetic son Shazad (Karan Gill) hostage that there seems some hope of redemption.​

Setting a play in the office of a small provincial cab company is hardly the usual way to set the pulses of theatregoers racing, but Din’s dialogue and the adept direction of Pooja Ghai make for an unexpectedly entertaining ride. The ensemble cast is especially strong, but Darweish, playing a forlorn man who dreams of finally making something of himself, is especially moving. Fatania has a great gift for comedy and the youngsters – especially the menacing Thiara – all show exciting promise.

This is a modern morality tale with a timeless message. Book your fare now.