It’s the magic of theatre! Even being transformed to a scruffy Middlesbrough taxi firm for two hours feels exotic, or maybe it’s being surrounded by the toffs of Geordieland. Either way I’m here at Approaching Empty and Mansha, the middle age manager of the firm offers to buy the struggling business from his life-long friend Raf. Mansha must come up with £120,000 to buy the business from Raf, so he scrapes together the money from taxi drivers Sameena and Sully, who risk their entire family savings in a leap of faith. It’s a story of hope and tragedy in post-industrial Britain, of struggle and friendship, of getting by in a time when everything seems to be getting harder.
thankfully, it doesn’t get mired in an over-romanticisation of British industry, instead carefully blending the untold story of second generation immigrants whose families are now ingrained in the fabric of working class Britain
In Approaching Empty there’s no longer solace in the security of skilled labour or dignity or pride in their work, only the daily struggle of keeping the failing company afloat and dreaming of a better future. It’s a story full of the Thatcher bashing tropes of any post-industrial drama, with a television playing in the background showing news coverage of her funeral. But, thankfully, it doesn’t get mired in an over-romanticisation of British industry, instead carefully blending the untold story of second generation immigrants whose families are now ingrained in the fabric of working class Britain. And in that sense it does feel thoroughly British, but an overcast, Ken Loach vision of Britain.
The play wonderfully portrays the British-Pakistani community, weaving themes of family and work with aspiration and duty; they’re constantly in conflict and find themselves internalised within each character. The two best friends running the taxi company simmer with a frustration that lingers behind their every move; Mansha wants to buy the firm and risk his savings after a life of regret, while Raf is desperate to sell after feeling his life’s work hasn’t reaped the rewards he feels he deserves. It asks how far we will go for fulfilment, for our families. Are we even working for others or just for ourselves? Approaching Empty shows us there are no easy answers, and it presents that conclusion solemnly and honestly. We are nothing and all our aspiration and education is going to get us nowhere, so why not just admit it and give ourselves to others, to service. Approaching Empty is as real as it is cynical and wrestles with all that we hold dear, ending with a diagnosis that's stayed with me since: “there aren’t good people or bad people in this world, only rich c***s and poor c***s.”