There’s admirable scope to Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, Dougal Irvine’s fresh adaptation of Riaz Khan’s 2010 autobiography of the same name. It’s an attempt to chart Khan’s early adulthood – a supercharged riot of football fights and fashion – against the changing face and evolving attitudes of the East Midlands in the 1980s. But it only partly pulls it off.
There’s a lot to like about Nikolai Foster’s production. The two performers – Jay Varsani and Hareet Deol – are tremendously endearing, scampering and scarpering around Grace Smart’s elevated asphalt set with abundant energy, endlessly evoking a cast of family, friends and footy hooligans.
It’s got a few nifty tricks up its sleeve, too. Vasarni and Deol scrawl chalk lines on the floor to represent racial slurs, or how the set’s substantial ceiling tilts alarmingly during dramatic moments.
But this buoyancy and bravado isn’t enough to paper over the cracks in Irvine’s adaptation. Khan’s is an interesting and important story about a search for identity, about the uniting power of football, and the dangerous, euphoric thrill of tribal violence, and there’s good, gritty detail and local Leicester flavour to it as well.
It’s awkwardly episodic, though – fight, after fight, after fight – and it lacks a defined journey for its central character. It revels in the club-on-club clashes and shunts the knotty bits – why Khan was initially enamoured of this world, the politics that pushed him, and the damage it did to him – to the edges. Boisterous, but bumpy.