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Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual | Curve Theatre | Review

Jay Varsani (Riaz) - Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual - Photography by Ellie Kurttz
Jay Varsani (Riaz) – Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual – Photography by Ellie Kurttz

As I sat on the train back to St Pancras from Leicester on a fairly plush East Midlands Trains service, complete with trolley service providing drinks and snacks, the events in Memoirs of An Asian Football Casual reminded me of the Football Specials, trains that used to take fans to and from away matches. Members of hooligan collectives, like the one brothers Riaz (Jay Varsani) and Suf (Hareet Deol) Khan got involved in – theirs was the ‘Baby Squad’, full of supporters of Leicester City Football Club, named for the relative youth of its membership relative to rival hooligan ‘firms’ – would prefer to take regular scheduled trains rather than the ‘specials’, as they were generally less heavily policed.

Not that this theatrical adaptation of Riaz Khan’s book of the same title (worth a read, by the way) spends any time dwelling on who caught what train and when: this is a gloriously fast-paced production that thunders through the Eighties with both rigour and vigour. Neither actor remains still for very long, and the energy created by the part-description, part-dramatization of what took place is palpable. Some of it is edge-of-the-seat stuff, even if it does get a little relentless, though there’s a different feel to every match.

But the football match results didn’t seem to matter too much either way, aside from, perhaps, a confident assertion after a significant win at some point in the Eighties that one day Leicester City would win the League, prompting smiles and cheers from the audience (a reference, for anyone whose knowledge of sport is as rudimentary as mine, to Leicester winning the 2015/16 Premier League season). There couldn’t be a more appropriate venue than the Curve for this production; some of the street names and landmarks referenced are within walking distance of the theatre.

The story begins even before Riaz Khan was born, and ends long after the Hillsborough tragedy of 15th April 1989, a pivotal turning point in Khan’s involvement with hooliganism. It’s a rich narrative, and, perhaps inevitably, explores the brothers’ coping strategies with racist chanting and abuse. Coarse language is, refreshingly, moderated, allowing the audience to concentrate on the storyline proper, and there’s a concerted attempt at putting all that fighting and violence in context (there wasn’t much for teenagers to do with their time, and their Pashtun ancestry honoured, historically speaking, fighting to defend the tribe’s honour), though the lads eventually concede they were young and naïve back then.

So, while the show portrays hooligan behaviour, it does not glorify it, seeking instead to tell a ‘warts and all’ story. Sufficient details are included such that you need not know a thing about football or the hooligan mindset beforehand: all is explained in an absorbing and entertaining way that neither bamboozles the first-timers nor bores the football veterans. It may be uncomfortable viewing at times, but the production is an extraordinary achievement. The tension in the auditorium rises at key moments, rather like an action movie, as the Baby Squad seeks to break down its opponents whilst trying to avoid being placed in the local custody suite. Fight or flight, flight or fight: the dilemma needs constant resolving as the situation on the ground changes rapidly every time.

Going out clubbing seemed to take over from being in the Baby Squad, allowing the brothers to continue their desire to look trendy, sporting the latest designer clothing. With the Prime Minister’s ‘Dancing Queen’ act at the Conservative Party Conference 2018 still fresh in (some) audience members’ minds on press night, the lads’ dance moves were a sight to behold. There was also some rapping (make of that what you will), and it occurred to me that this autobiographical piece of theatre wasn’t that far removed from, say, a story of American redemption, right down to Khan embracing religion later in life.

It’s all a tad self-indulgent, but knows it is, and more pertinently provides much food for thought for a wide range of topics, such as how much freedom should be given by parents to the next generation to discover things for themselves, or whether society’s inequalities and prejudices are really all that different from thirty years ago. An intense, passionate and relevant play.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Away from the racial tensions of 1980s British society and the pressure to stay true to his cultural roots at home, Rushey Mead teenager Riaz Khan, finds his place with Leicester City‘s infamous football hooligans, the Baby Squad.

Decked out in the latest designer gear and ready for a brawl with the rival firm on match day, Riaz and his friends create a multi-cultural gang advocating racial tolerance, where the only labels that matter are on clothes. But as the years go by and the casualties of football firms around the country mount up, Riaz soon discovers the true price of belonging to a subculture of violence.

Now a De Montfort University Lecturer, Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual tells the coming of age story of reformed Baby Squad member Riaz Khan. Join us in September for this gritty, colourful and spirited world premiere Made at Curve production, adapted for the stage by Curve Associate Artist Dougal Irvine. This drama will be directed by Curve’s Artistic Director, Nikolai Foster.

Creative Team
Adapted for the stage by Curve Associate Artist, Dougal Irvine
Director – Curve’s Artistic Director, Nikolai Foster
Set and Costume Designer – Grace Smart
Composer and Sound Designer – Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer Tasha
Taylor Johnson
Casting Director – Kay Magson CDG

Age Recommendation: 14+
Join the conversation: #CurveMemoirs
WED 26 SEP — SAT 6 OCT 2018
https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

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