Snookered, Oldham Coliseum
Paul Vallely is Associate Editor of The Independent where he writes on social, ethical, political and cultural issues. He writes leaders, features and has a weekly column in the Independent on Sunday. He was co-author of the report of the Commission for Africa and has chaired several development charities.
Friday 17 February 2012
Wow! This is the most accomplished and assured first play I have seen for years. It is all the more extraordinary for being written by an Asian taxi driver from Middlesbrough who was driving his cab one night listening to Five Live when it announced a writing competition. Next day he sat down at his new computer.
Ishy Din reckons that over his years behind the wheel he has had, or overheard, 160,000 conversations with his passengers. He has listened well. He has a finely-tuned ear for the rhythms of the conversation of working people – and their routine careless obscenities. Three older members of the audience walked out within the first five minutes in the face of a machine-gun barrage of the most offensive words in the English language.
That was a pity, because Din uses his command of the relentless demotic to lay bare an extraordinary range of emotion from the braggardly and blustering to the vulnerable and downright tender. Snookered takes place in a pool hall where four British-Pakistani men in their early twenties meet every year to commemorate the death of a friend with an untrammelled drinking session. The mood swings violently as the lager and JD shots are downed and the secrets and lies of the men’s lives are gradually laid bare in this expertly-paced piece of writing.
There is a universality to this story of young men’s dreams, values, frustrations and sexuality as all four come to terms with how snookered their life and options really are. But Din’s particularity of working class northern British Asian men is heightened by their being trapped between two cultures. Family and faith, arranged marriages and the bonds of community, all accentuate the universal modern dilemma of freedom versus fulfilment through responsibility. Jaz Deol as Billy talks movingly about being kissed by his mother as she disowns him. Muzz Khan, who alternates effectively between swaggering and neediness as Shaf, has a striking outburst on how conformity has imprisoned him.
Ishy Din’s prose is as subtle as it sinuous. It works a lot through what it leaves unsaid – though it is bold enough in its depiction of casual white racism, Muslim fundamentalism and Asian corruption. His mosque full of drug dealers and VAT fiddlers pulls no punches. Ciaran Bagnall’s pool table set is clever and effective.
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