Our White Skoda Octavia
Quay Theatre, Sudbury
The focus in theatre new writing at the moment is very much diversity and of course that should be applauded. There is nothing like live drama to bring us within the sphere of different cultures and help us learn what it takes to live in a different country other than your birth country, how unsettling it can be to move from place to place while trying to fit in and be accepted, and the challenges of bringing up a family while trying to retain the values of what you were taught to believe.
There are rich veins to be explored here with this story of the South Asian Alfridis family who move to Peterborough from Bradford when the father Amjad loses his job in a factory and decides to become a taxi driver instead.
Unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts of the actors, the script gives them little to work with and the story becomes a series of leaps in time and unfinished scenes rather than an in-depth exploration of the characters and the themes of discrimination, bullying and tolerance between generations that emerge as the piece moves through the years.
Freny Nina Pavri plays Rabia, the mother of the family, at first as a sympathetic and loving wife to her husband, a man who has ambitions in the taxi business but is a bit of a muddler but who has looked after his family and is proud of both his Asian and British heritage. But without much development, she suddenly decides she has had enough and wants a divorce and subsequently moves to Canada—something that comes as a surprise both to him and us.
Tiran Aakel plays Amjad and is probably the most rounded character in the piece, but unfortunately he is killed off at the end of the first half just as we are getting to know him. It would have been interesting to have understood why he moved to Bradford in the first place and something of his background as a goatherd on the Afgan / Pakistan Border. And why he likes to sing old American country songs.
Writer Shamser Sinha has made the typical mistake of a new writer of trying to cram too much into the story and thereby having to skate over character and plot development.
Time moves at an incredible pace, although often the pace of the dialogue drags. We have no idea how old the children are at the start and get little chance to get to know them before they are all grown up and following their own ambitions.
Gurjot Dhaliwal makes a promising debut in this production as Yasmin, and makes the best of her very quick transition from small girl to reluctant political campaigner, but Ali Arshad as her brother Faisal seems unsure of what his character’s motivation is or where to pitch his angst and tends to garble his words, getting worse as the second half progresses.
The cast are also asked to play a number of other characters, some more successful than others, many of them snapshots of taxi passengers. This too is frustrating as it often tells us little more about the main characters and is not helped by the split staging effect with the car represented by a door on one wall while the driver takes his seat on the other side of the stage in an easy chair which is part of the living room set.
There is also a missed opportunity to use the talents of the cast to create more of the underlying Asian music that punctuates the piece live. The little we have is very effective and would have given the piece more tangibility.
There is probably a good play in here struggling to come out. With a lot of editing and rewriting, it might manage it. But in this current format, it is a missed opportunity and as such disappointing. Back to the drawing board methinks.
Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes