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BWW Review: APPROACHING EMPTY, Kiln Theatre Online

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BWW Review: APPROACHING EMPTY, Kiln Theatre Online

BWW Review: APPROACHING EMPTY, Kiln Theatre OnlineFirst performed at the Kiln Theatre in 2019, and now available to stream digitally on the Tamasha Theatre Company YouTube channel, Approaching Empty is a play about friendship, community and the immigrant experience in Britain. It's set in a minicab office in the North of England, in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's death.

Written by former taxi driver Ishy Din, the play tells the story of Raf (Nicholas Khan), the owner of King's Cars minicabs, and his best friend Mansha (Kammy Darweish), who manages the company. The plot follows their changing relationship, as Mansha buys the company from Raf, only to discover that Raf has been hiding things about the finances.

Darweish's Mansha is warm and humble; he has never been on holiday and is content with a modest life. In contrast, Raf is ambitious, business-minded and ruthless. The difference between them is made clear early on in the play as the men discuss Margaret Thatcher and reminisce about their time working at a factory. While Raf praises the Iron Lady, Mansha asserts that she "ruined this country". Darweish and Khan have great chemistry on stage, making the tumultuous relationship between the two friends deeply believable.

Under the direction of Pooja Ghai, the cast of six brilliantly do justice to Din's distinctive and dynamic characters. This piece is free from any cheesy sentimentality or bombast, instead it is honest and human, accurately imitating real life.

Rosa Maggiora's set is a dingy cab office, decked out with an old TV, a dartboard, a faded map of the city on the wall, and an instant coffee machine in the hallway. The smell of stale cigarettes and coffee almost seeps through my laptop screen as I watch the play. It is a perfect piece for digital viewing: intensely naturalistic and accessible, it could easily be a TV drama.

The play is the second in Ishy Din's trilogy for Tamasha that seeks to explore the male immigrant experience. The other central characters in Approaching Empty include Shazad (Karan Gill), Raf's son who is at university, and Sully (Nicholas Prasad), Mansha's son-in-law who is one of their minicab drivers. While the play shrewdly observes the nuances of its male characters, it does not however ignore the female experience.

The only female character in the play, Sameena, is a hilariously explosive force to be reckoned with. Rina Fatania's performance stands out as she charges across the stage like a human thunderstorm. Recently out of prison for reasons that we never discover, she gets a job as a minicab driver at the firm and becomes increasingly involved in the business. Though Fatania brings a significant amount of comedy to the stage, Din also uses Sameena's character to gesture towards more serious issues of domestic violence, arranged marriage and motherhood.

It is this balance between comedy and tragedy that makes Din's writing so poignant. Death looms over the piece, as we discover that Sully's father was recently killed by a disease caused by inhaling toxic chemicals when he worked in a factory.

The news reports that punctuate the play paint a dismal picture of Britain in 2013, as they blast from the TV in the corner of the minicab office. The stories we hear include a report that the pay of bosses has increased significantly more than the pay of workers, complaints that big American banks have still not been held accountable for their role in the financial crash, and repeated reports on the death and funeral of Margaret Thatcher.

This production is delightfully comic yet astutely political and ultimately tragic. As the piece culminates in an unexpectedly dark ending, Din spotlights the hopelessness in the lives of his characters, and the strife of working-class immigrant life in Britain.

The title of the play appears in the first lines, as Mansha radios one of his drivers to ask where he is, and Car 34 responds "Approaching empty". By the end of the play, the title has taken on a far more symbolic meaning, as the empty cab undeniably represents the aimless lives of the characters in a play that is despairing about the future.

Approaching Empty is available to stream until 4 August

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