by LAUREN CODLING
A FORMER taxi driver-turned-playwright has revealed why his past career has helped him engage more with his work in the theatre.
Ishy Din, 49, is the writer of Approaching Empty, the second part of a trilogy in collaboration with Tamasha Theatre Company.
The drama takes place in a “scruffy minicab office” as the relationship between long-time
friends Raf and Mansha threatens to unravel over the prospect of a business deal.
The north-east setting is nothing new to the Middlesbrough-born writer, as he formally worked as a cab driver in Teesside for 20 years.
“It was a world I knew really well,” Din, who still lives in the town, told Eastern Eye.
Working as a cabbie gave him an invaluable insight into people’s lives, Din said, as one of the beauties of his job meant he did not know who he would encounter.
“It could be a judge, a criminal, a nurse, a teacher,” he noted. “You do get to see and
communicate with a range of characters, from the young to the old. That has been
helpful and has probably stayed with me.”
Approaching Empty (which is a phrase used by cab drivers to indicate the vehicle
would be vacant) was an opportunity for Din to explore the difficulties of friendship and
business crossing paths.
The theme of friendship intrigues Din and is a recurring element in his work.
In Din’s 2012 play Snookered, the narrative focused on four British Asians over the
course of an evening in a snooker hall. His third and currently untitled play is about a
group of older Asian men who arrived in the UK with the expectation of returning to their
“It is universal,” he explained. “Every single one of us has to deal with issues in relationships on a regular basis, regardless of who we are.”
Din got into writing late – he was in his 30s when he heard about a competition on the
radio while driving his cab. Without any expectations, he entered and won.
Now, after a series of successful writing credits, Din works as a writer full-time. The father-of-three admitted however he still renews his taxi driving license despite not working in the field for six years.
“I don’t know why [I renew the license],” he mused. “Maybe it is a comfort blanket. If all else fails, I know I can always go back to that.”
While growing up in the north, Din was not exposed to the theatre. Although his family enjoyed popular culture – his father was a fan of Pakistani music while his elder brothers preferred Bollywood movies and the 1970s classic Saturday Night Fever – Din said he was never really engaged with the arts.
Din said he did not give much thought into his career prospects when he was at school. He was always sure he would be “okay,” but he wondered if his uncertainty had been a hinderance.
“Perhaps I wish I had been more focused, but I’m here now, so all is well that ends
well,” he laughed.
“I just want to thank Tamasha for showing faith in me. They were so important when I started writing as they really encouraged me to work in theatre. Once I had that [encouragement], I loved it.”
However, theatre can occasionally seem out-of-reach to the working class, he claimed.
There is a misconception of it being targeted for “posh people,” which can make some reluctant to participate with it.
“It is a people’s forum and a people medium, and it has somehow managed to be this category where people from different backgrounds think theatre isn’t for them,” Din said.
“It is important we tell stories and try to get people into theatres who wouldn’t traditionally
come. They can see something that reflects them on stage.”
Scheduled to be shown at Newcastle’s Live Theatre from February 6, Din is especially excited as it will be the first time one of his theatre productions will be showcased on his home turf.
“I’m looking forward to getting some fellow northerners together to see my work,” he said.
Approaching Empty is on at the Kiln Theatre from January 9 to February 2, 2019. It will
tour nationwide until April 13.