Review: Approaching Empty at Live Theatre

An examination of friendship, betrayal, the immigrant experience and the legacy of Margaret Thatcher has turned Live Theatre’s main stage into a scruffy Teesside taxi HQ. Sam Wonfor went along for the ride.

Approaching Empty by Ishy Din at Live Theatre

Set in a minicab office that’s seen better days, Ishy Din’s well-crafted drama, Approaching Empty, offers a thoughtful portrayal of the lives of middle-aged British Pakistanis in post-industrial Middlesbrough.

It’s April 2013, and while the long-shadow legacies of Margaret Thatcher’s policies are everywhere to be seen, the Iron Lady herself – the TV news bulletin tells us – is no more.

The news goes down a storm with Mansha (Kammy Darweish), a mild-mannered and respectable 55-year-old father who has run the taxi firm for owner Raf (Nicholas Khan) – who doubles as his close friend of 40 years – since the devastating demise of the Teesside steelworks that employed them.

Fuelled by a mixture of decency, blind loyalty and gallons of freeby machine coffee, Mansha has somehow kept the fares coming in, in the face of the speedy expansion of rival firm, Fleet… and – as becomes devastatingly apparent as the story unfolds – despite a distinct lack of elementary business sense.

Approaching Empty by Ishy Din at Live Theatre

Convinced that you ‘don’t have to be ruthless’ to be successful, when the money-minded, shifty-in-plain-sight and definitely unwell Raf talks of selling the firm to Fleet, a determined Mansha sees a chance to fulfil the ambitions he always had for himself, but never risked enough to realise.

He shares the opportunity with two of his young drivers – his son-in-law Sully (Nicholas Prasad) and Sameena (Rina Fatania) a young single mother trying to get her kids and her pre-prison life back.
Fired up by dreams of success and sure of their commitment to the job in hand – and each other – the new business partners go all in; blissfully unaware that all manner of debt-ridden hell is about to break loose.

This is the second in a trilogy of plays by Ishy Din through which he is exploring the male immigrant experience.
While the first, Snookered was about young Asian men born in the UK, Approaching Empty – a collaboration between the Kiln, Tamasha and Live Theatre – examines the lives of those who arrived here as teenagers.

Approaching Empty by Ishy Din at Live Theatre

Aged 50, and with 20 years of on-the-road experiences as a cab driver in Middlesbrough, Din’s life experience peppers the script.
From the in-office ‘bantz’ (as I believe the bairns are calling lively conversation these days) to the lost dreams of their younger selves, the dialogue is knowing and sharp as we see betrayals and their repercussions play out in (perhaps a little too) swift and violent fashion.

Directed by Pooja Ghai, who doesn’t let the grass grow under anyone’s feet, this feels like a timely tale which pitches decency against cut-throat capitalism and wonders where we go from here.

Approaching Empty is at Live Theatre, Newcastle, until February 23. For tickets, visit www.live.org.uk.

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