Approaching Empty

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Taxis aren’t the only thing for hire in Ishy Din’s new play, which pitches its stall in the sort of dingy cab office all but wiped out by big business these days. Working the twilight shift, fifty-something Mansha may hand out the jobs, but it’s stressed-out owner Raf who holds court. He’s trying to shake some sense into his business student son Shazad along with the value of making a buck and proving who’s boss among extended family and ex-cons alike no matter what.

When the chance comes for Mansha to buy the business, old loyalties are tested as new alliances are formed, only for anything resembling integrity to disappear along with a couple of plastic bags full of used banknotes.

Quite deliberately set in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s death in 2013 and the blanket TV coverage it provoked, Din’s play become a terrier-like microcosm of the sort of free market capitalism she championed. This unsurprisingly gives free rein to the sort of dodgy dealers, spivs and out and out high street gangsters epitomised by Tany, played by Maanuv Thiara with wide-boy zeal. For him, life is a boom or bust lottery enabled by a philosophy which begat the mess of austerity and corrupted capitalism we’re in now.

Pooja Ghal’s production for Tamasha Theatre Company in partnership with London’s Kiln Theatre and Live Theatre Newcastle frames the action on Rosa Maggiora’s set. The wall-sized map at the back of the office seems to mark the possibility of back-street empires worth fighting for. In this sense Din’s macho scenario where business is business and money talks is a near neighbour of a world pretty much patented by David Mamet and his ilk.

Din reconstitutes this for a grim northern English town having the life sucked out of it by a doomed loadsamoney ideology. For all their ambitions may be different, Kammy Darweish’s Mansha and Nicholas Khan’s Raf are two sides of the same bent coin before they are forced to give way to something more hardcore. Thatcher would have loved it.