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Review: Approaching Empty, at Kiln Theatre

17 January, 2019 — By Howard Loxton

Kammy Darweish in Approaching Empty. Photo: Helen Murray

ISHY Din’s new play starts at a slack time at night in a minicab office in the north in 2013. Dispatcher Mansha hears a television newsflash: Margaret Thatcher is dead. “Bitch!” is his instant reaction: he lives with her legacy.

Mansha and best friend Raf came from Pakistan as kids. They had jobs in a steelworks but when they went, like so much of British industry, Raf set up this now-ailing business. Now a more successful rival firm owner has made a bid for it.

That stirs Mansha, who years ago turned down the chance to be King Cars co-proprietor rather than its employee, to try to match that offer and take it over.

The contrast between Kammy Darweish’s kind-hearted Mansha and Nicholas Khan’s more ruthless Raf parallels our society: the easy-going lefty, who took a pride in the bridges they once built, and the man who exploits him, but neither is a match for the really cut-throat.

At first things move slowly and it is the playing that holds the attention, as it reveals the imbalance between the two men and introduces the next generation in Mansha’s son-in-law Sully (Nicholas Prasad), who is one of their drivers and Raf’s son Shazad (Karan Gill) though Rina Fatania explodes on the scene as a new driver, just out of prison.

Fatania is splendidly comic but her foul-mouthed Sameena has great sensitivity.

Director Pooja Ghai gets performances from her cast that show them all part of a close community, though not a united one, as pressure builds up the action becomes more melodramatic. If you know people can you necessarily trust them? Mansha’s innocent credulity does seem excessive but is that because the Thatcher years changed people and their expectations of life and of others.

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