Thursday, 1 June 2017

Review Combustion

A new play set in Bradford entertains Peter Barker while tackling difficult issues with comic flair. 

by Asif Khan

Life In The Fast Lane

The dilemmas and quickfire situations in Asif Khan's fast paced and good-hearted drama Combustion follows an honourable tradition, even if a higher profile for British Asian playwrights is only just emerging.

Showing working class regional life and masculinity, Khan is occupying a similar space to Scottish playwrights John Byrne (Slab Boys) and Peter McDougall (Just Another Saturday, and Just a Boys’ Game) from a previous generation.

Khan wittily examines the lives of contemporary working class British Asians in Bradford and their reaction to religion and the racism swirling around them. The religous tensions and violence are key parts of  both Khan’s world as it is, for example, in McDougall’s Glaswegian Orange Day march world in Just Another Saturday.

Combustion has a five-strong cast, starting out in a Bradford auto-repair garage during the Ramadan month of fasting..

The play is set against the background of  an English Defence League march leveraging the maximum amount of hate from a scandal involving the grooming of under age girls and the convictions of several Asian men.

Shaz (Beruce Khan) wants to make a success of his late father’s car repair business with his friends Ali (Rez Kempton) and Faisal (Mitesh Soni) as mechanics. Shaz’s sister Samina (Shireen Farkhoy), a student campaigner against racism, is determined to demonstrate against the EDL march and give a speech.

Mechanic British-born Faisal is considering a move to Pakistan, the birthplace of his father, away from the racism he has suffered in Britain. Ali, belligerently opposed to the rise of the fascists, is thinking of marrying Samina.

A tense atmosphere in the city turns to violence when ranting racist EDL supporter Andy (Nigel Hastings) turns up out of the blue and is assaulted. Approached by Samina, he nevertheless unexpectedly agrees to talk - or argue - with her.

The fast pace of action sees all the characters going through radical changes. Beruce Khan is charismatic as Shaz, with both Soni and Kempton also showing confident comic timing. Farkhoy gives good value as the gobby, Northern girl grappling with politics.

However as a northerner who lived in Yorkshire for several years, I missed the lyrical quality of northern spoken language, while Khan did capture much of the wit. Also, if all these people are from Bradford, why are their accents different?

Still, director Nona Shepphard keeps the pacing fast and tight, even if some of the shifts in plot seem rather implausible. Designer Mila Sanders ingeniously uses the Arcola studio's brick walled space as the basic set of  an auto workshop where tables and chairs  double up as other props such as cars and fridges. Khan’s writing is funny and often sharp in a play which faces the issues head-on, deserving an amber/green light.

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