Snookered is a play about racial and religious identity and class in Britain today. Set in an unnamed town in the north of England, its four protagonists are young men of Pakistani descent making their way in the world with varying degrees of success.
They drink, swear, fight and talk about sex a way that would make your granny’s hair curl in a script that is sparky, foul-mouthed, fast, loud and at times very funny with a robust natural humour.
It’s the first full-length stage play by Ishy Din, who grew up in a similar background and whose c.v. includes restaurant and video shop ventures, selling mobile phones and driving a minicab. He’s been there, done it, and that’s what makes this work so important. It’s not perfect but it offers an insight into a different world, challenging preconceived ideas and making you think.
The four men, who all went to school together, meet once a year to drink and play pool on the anniversary of the death of the fifth member of the group, the mysterious T. The play’s title seems to refer more to the way they are snookered or hindered by various constraints.
There’s Shaf (Muzz Khan), a minicab driver all pent up anger and frustration and well aware that he’s the failure of the group, he’s the loudest and most volatile. He’s also a walking contradiction as although he’s a traditional Muslim on the outside, including an arranged marriage, he doesn’t believe in God. He’s not stupid, he just didn’t work at school and now he’s stuck in the town where he was born, with a wife and five children and no way out of his predicament – or is there?
His closest friend is Billy (Jaz Deol), who moved to London because he had a white girlfriend and now he can’t come back as his family have disowned him. Kamy (Asif Khan) is an ambitious Halal butcher and finally Mo (Peter Singh), Shaf’s brother-in-law, is an aspiring manager at Comet who’s applied for promotion in Enfield.
The play is full of sound and fury but the last thing it signifies is nothing. Ishy Din has a lot to say and he says it very well – how do you become what you want to be without compromising what you are?
As the evening goes on and more and more alcohol is downed (they drink so much that toilet breaks are written in), old rivalries and animosities come to the fore. But underneath it there lie deeper tensions, hopes, dreams and secrets, which are revealed as it lurches to a heartbreaking end including a smashing final performance by Muzz Khan.
The play would have benefited from a stronger plotline, better defined characters, slightly less yelling - the noise is relentless - and tighter direction. The pool sequence in the middle goes on too long and the plot gets lost for a while. But none of that detracts from the intensity of the central theme.
The purpose of the Bush is to showcase new work, and that’s what it’s doing here. You don’t come to the Bush to see West End slick.
Snookered shows enormous promise, and if your taste is for theatre that opens your eyes and makes you look at the world in a new way, you’ll like this. Let’s hope The Bush puts on Din’s next play.
Snookered continues at the Bush Theatre until March 24. For more information, visit the website or call the box office on 020 8743 5050.
March 7, 2012