This debut play by Mina Maisuria, winner of Angle Theatre’s new writer’s award, takes a comic look at a group of exploited petrol station employees as they try to scratch a living while working under the boss from hell. Although lacking in true comedic bite, Commercial Rd displays a keen eye for the drama of workplace relationships.
The action centres on Krishnan (Kal Aise), a recent immigrant working a long shift while his pregnant wife goes into labour. Shy and unassuming, he bears the brunt of manager Girish’s (Ravi Aujla) gauche behaviour, displaying a saintly restraint, even when repeatedly labelled ‘freshy,’ spoken to as if he has hearing difficulties and disallowed a phone call to his wife after his child’s birth. Aise skilfully charts the path of this anxious, pliant man who hopes to just please his boss but is increasingly put upon and finally broken when his naivety is taxed too far.
Girish (Ravi Aujla) treats his employees with a level of contempt redolent of a Victorian workhouse; calling his Muslim hijab-wearing employee, Feroza, ‘ninja,’ forcing the workers into fourteen hour shifts and prohibiting use of the toilet - giving Krishnan a milk bottle to relieve himself into instead. He employs his troubled son called “Sonny” in the shop and the latter, an angst-ridden teenager, petulantly does all he can to get the sack, including swearing at a customer and eventually robbing the shop himself.
There are not as many laugh-out-loud moments as one would hope, but the interaction of the characters, depicting how power is controlled via language, shines a light on the petty superiorities that preoccupy some. When Ramanathan (Alton Letto), bemoans the fact that the English language “makes a fool of me here”, you understand his frustration in the face of their unscrupulous manager.
The pace of Charlotte Gwinner’s production can seem sluggish at points, but the cast show great camaraderie and Rina Mahoney’s as Feroza stands out as woman giving as good as she gets. Ravi Aujla also convinces as the pathetic manager with high hopes for his petrol station, displaying amazing depths of insensitivity and in general leading a life of loud desperation.
There are some rough edges here, not least Sonny’s characterisation which can verge on parody of rebellious youth, but the heart of the play and its insight into prejudice among British and newly arrived Asians in illuminating.