Review: Snookered

Photograph: Tristram Kenton
Photograph: Tristram Kenton

An Urban Dictionary entry defines the title of Ishy Din’s play Snookered: “to be exhausted, or in a bad situation. Snookered is a broadly used term which has a variety of meanings. A common definition of snookered is ‘to be fucked’ . Snookered is usually used in the phrase ‘fucking snookered’. This basically means ‘absolutely fucked’”.

As Michael McIntyre has gibed, posh people have an array of phrases to indicate a state of intoxication, from the traditional squiffy or tiddly to the more imaginative ‘carparked’ or ‘gazeboed’. But Din’s play does not deal with the champagne quaffers of Ascot or Henley Royal Regatta.

Rather, Din provides a window to the lives of a small group of young British Muslims up North, who meet in a pub to commiserate the absence of their old pal T. Apart from getting absolutely shitfaced, these men are portrayed as part of a generation ‘snookered’ in another sense of the word – as scattered members of an immigrant diaspora, alike to the balls of the game. According to the blurb, these men are ‘burdened by cultural expectations yet charged with personal dreams’.

Snookered was developed by theatre company Tamasha, famous for driving Asian culture into the British mainstream with successes including the film East is East and the launch of Parminder Nagra’s career in Bend it Like Beckham.  According to Ishy Din, ‘I am a writer and without Tamasha I’d still be a taxi driver. My voice as a northern Asian would be muted and my attempts to open a window on a largely unexplored world would be firmly shut.’

Ishy Din (Photograph: Traverse Theatre)

Din certainly succeeds in bringing a tongue-in-cheek voice to British theatre through the play. Rife with rebuttals, drinking and swearing, Snookered comprises of scenes of an unsympathetically realistic night at the pub. The lovably blunt character Shaf laments his wife’s latest pregnancy – ‘our lass is up the stick again’ – and explains that ‘the silly cow won’t go on the pill…reckons its un-Islamic, fucking dopey twat’.

With this register, Din is able to deal with very real social taboos in an unusually down-to-earth setting. It’s hard for a play which begins and ends with a drunken discussion of Gary Lineker to be harshly offensive, even if it does deal with birth control, suicide, drugs, racism and shootings. The play is worth a read or a performance purely on the basis of Din’s witty script. Character Kamy’s business chat is frankly hilarious. His family butchers shop is named after “where the old fella’s from back home” (implicitly, revealing Kamy to be a second or third generation member of the migrant community). But as he explains, “we want to go up market bro…supply schools, hospitals…corporate shit…they have to feed every fucker halal meat now. Kharee Halal Meats makes us sound like…I don’t know…It makes us sound like refugees or something.”