Having recently reviewed Tamasha's new production at the Bush, Telegraph critic Charles Spencer makes a startling comment: 'think of young male Muslims in Britain today, the first image that comes to mind is of indoctrinated fanatics heading to London from the North with explosives in their rucksacks'. Now, I'm not in the habit of bringing the world-views of other reviewers into my own, but the point of the matter is that the statement does huge disservice to Ishy Din's first play. It's far more complex than that and a strong contender for one of the best first plays I've seen in recent years serviced by a tour-de-force production from Tamasha.
Set in an unnamed Northern town (I suspect Bradford) the play follows four lads in their twenties over one night in the snooker hall, who drink and play in memory of a close friend who died some years before. The drinks come thick and fast as the doubles tournament kicks off – and inevitably secrets are unearthed and the truths begin to stack up. If the plot sounds unoriginal, even contrived, that's because it is. But that's the trick shot of Snookered: when you think you know what Din's up to, he neatly subverts us. Of course, given the politics of the plot and its characters, Snookered does have something to say about the Muslim experience of living in Britain. A lesser writer might be less subtle, but Din is smarter than that – he manages to conjure these social tensions, trusting us to do the work. It's a bold move that succeeds in context – it's a subject that everyone believes they know something about, but in the world of this play what takes precedent are male rituals – boys becoming men, forming and confusing their worldview, and the comfort of their male unit really forms stronger multiple themes. It's a play about growing up; the tide of relationships; and ultimately what it really means in today's climate to go out into the world looking for your place in it. Snookered dissects that struggle – the suspended animation of being caught between cultures in the present – but this doesn't form the basis of the play's conflict. This is present in the quality of the wit and humour that recalls David Mamet at its most potent. The language is one of slang and cuss that derives from English, Arabic and even a heady brew of both. It's a superbly realised piece of writing.
The acting is stellar throughout. Muzz Khan rips up the stage as the vehement Shaf, while Asif Khan has fun with the nerdy Kamy who has inherited the family business. Happening in real time and the unpredictable element of playing the game makes for some touching, truthful work from the performers, constantly working with an atmosphere of insecurity that has, in turn, the capacity to spill over into violence at any minute. Credit where it's due then to director Iqbal Khan, who has created a family of boys lusting for a better life, and that forms the seed of the powerplay. Meanwhile, designer Ciaran Bagnall creates an easy, unhampered set-up - the haze, punctuated by rays of light, with the snooker table is the centre of the action. What more do you need to serve plot? Nothing much it would seem, but a neat ceiling projection works well without contrivance.
Snookered is a gem of a play. Expertly crafted dialogue, a subversive thematic structure and some of the strongest acting I've seen this year. Luxuriate in its simplicity and trust that Din is able to subvert that as well. Go and see it.
Tamasha in association with Oldham Coliseum Theatre and the Bush Theatre
On the sixth anniversary of T’s death, his four friends meet as they always do for a game of pool and a few drinks. As they excavate the past and measure their own lives against T’s, secrets are revealed and allegiances shift as quickly as the drinks are downed. Can they put to rest the guilt they feel over T’s untimely death? And will their friendship survive the final betrayal?
In a volatile political climate, Ishy Din opens a timely window into a strand of British Muslim life that often remains unseen. Through sparky dialogue, Snookered probes into the lives of these young men and their fragile masculinity, burdened by cultural expectations yet charged with personal dreams.
Tamasha is an award-winning theatre company which has played a key role in driving the crossover of Asian culture into the British mainstream. Successes likeEast is East, A Fine Balance, Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral, Strictly Dandia and The Trouble with Asian Men have won acclaim from critics and audiences alike.
Please note, this play contains stong language and is suitable for ages 16+.
Bush Theatre7 Uxbridge Road
London Greater London United Kingdom W12 8LJ
Matinees 14:30 Saturday
No performance Feb 29