Commercial Road

Mina Maisuria
Angle Theatre
Hackney Empire Studio
(2009)

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This ninety-minute play set in the shop of an East End petrol station launches a mini-season of work by new writers from immigrant communities discovered in 2008 through a multi-lingual marketing campaign inviting submissions, run in three east London boroughs. This is not Maisuria's first play. She is an actress, trained at Mountview, who has already had work presented by Kali Theatre, but this is the first to get a full production and she is now studying for an MA in Playwriting at Goldsmiths College.

The play is being promoted with the quote "God put the dirty magazines on the top shelf so us Asians can't reach them" and the manager himself has to stand on a pile of newspapers to get one down, but these Asians don't look shorties to me. It is a nice joke, but this is not an exploration of pornography or Asian sexual habits, though one of the characters has been sacked for masturbating while on night duty - his action caught on the security cameras. For a manager who locks up the rest of the building, including the lavatory, offering his night staff a bottle to pee in in an emergency, that seems a bit draconian but it might just be an excuse because he wants to give the job to someone else: his son.

The play offers an interesting mix of immigrant attitudes. Girishi (Ravi Aujla) the Hindi manager insists his employees perform puja around the shop to start the morning but with his London accent he seems settled, though from his attitudes to the owner of the business he's not too secure. His son Sonny (Ashley Kumar) is a bit of a trouble-maker: is this rebellion against his father's cultural traditions or just youthful irresponsibility? There is a hint that he may have a British mother and that they may not live with his father - but I could be wrong and this is certainly not explored, nor is his earlier bad behaviour spelled out.

A trusted female employee, Feroza (Rina Mahoney) is a Muslim. She is prepared to stand up to him, though Girishi tries to use some irregularity concerning her husband to put pressure on her. Newer employee, dog-tired from working all day and a night shift is Krishnan (Kal Aise), a gentle soul whose wife is in hospital having their baby. He is so insecure and in need of money that he is a total yes man as far as his boss is concerned. He doesn't even get to the hospital to see his wife and child. His English, like his behaviour, is far from confident, though he speaks relaxedly to an old childhood friend Ramanathan (Alton Letto) in their own language - which Girishi does not understand.

Maisuria explores the superficial relationships in this work environment but does not explore outside it. She has a lively ear for dialogue and cleverly handles writing so that conversation not in English is clearly identified without changes of accent - in this case in by being more confident and fluent. Director Charlotte Gwinner draws believable performances from her actors, Garance Marneur has devised a suitably minimal and rundown setting, and Kumar and Aise handle a fight (arranged by Jonathan Leverett) with skill.

It has its humour - manager Girishi is, suprisingly, a keen birdwatcher (birds of the feathered kind) - and it elicits a great deal of sympathy for its characters but it only hints at the underlying problems in these peoples' lives in a plot that goes no further than an episode of a television soap.

As part of this Triangle 2009 event Angle Theatre is also presenting work-in-progress performances of two further plays and readings of two more - all by writers who were winners of their New Writers Awards.

Ends 20th June 2009

Reviewer: Howard Loxton