Approaching Empty (3 stars)

Approaching Empty

credit: Helen Murray

Tragedy strikes in the taxi trade

Playwright Ishy Din's meditation on the fragility of masculinity and the corruption of honour, identity and business ethics is framed by the death of Margaret Thatcher and the arrangements for her funeral. As reports come in of her final illness and burial, the characters in a taxi office both reflect on her influence and enact the consequences of her brutal industrial and commercial policies, gradually revealing the violence, deceit and cynicism that hides beneath male friendships and economic aspiration.

At the heart of the drama lies the conflict between Mansha (Kammy Darweish) and Raf (Nicholas Khan): both arrived in the UK during the 1970s, and found themselves the victims of Thatcher's social restructuring: but having lost their jobs in heavy industry, Raf became the owner of the taxi company that Mansha manages. Their friendship is tested by Raf's power and belief in capitalism and when Mansha buys the company from him, he discovers that neither honour nor friendship prevents Raf from sharp dealing.

The dynamic tensions in the script – the aspirations of the economically marginalised for financial success, Mansha's belief in an ethical business, Raf's obsession with appearance and success – slowly boil in the first act, which captures the emotional cut and thrust of the friends and the pressures of post-industrial economies, but are brought to an uneven resolution in the second through the arrival of a younger, hungrier and criminal businessman. The loose structure of personal conversations and political commentary is abruptly displaced by threats of violence and the reveal that a struggling taxi firm could be saved by an influx of drug money: Din's message is clearly that capitalism itself is corrupted, and the earlier studies of male friendship under pressure are dropped for a more immediate image of Thatcher's legacy.

Although some of the performances are overwrought, and Din's script can be ponderous and obvious in its intentions, the competing visions of society and masculinity – which rotate around money, stability, success and social appearance – are served with deft characterisations, lifting the production above simplistic political rhetoric into a sometimes moving and frequently thoughtful examination of life lived at the margins of entrepreneurial ambition.

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, until Sat 9 Mar, then touring.

Approaching Empty

Two friends struggle with the difficulties of going into business, set in Northern England after Margaret Thatcher's death.

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