REVIEW: Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual (Curve Leicester) ★★★★
“Cos we’re Leicester. We’re all Leicester. Start the music.”
As someone who can barely explain the off side rule, let alone what a ‘football casual’ is, I did wonder whether Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual might go slightly over my head.
Nevertheless, the beauty of having ‘Made at Curve’ stamped on the front of a production is that you know you’re in for a good ride, even if you have no idea what to expect. As usual, Nikolai Foster pulled it out of the bag and I left feeling warm and fuzzy with nostalgia and yet totally fired up by an incredibly important lesson on the history of the city I call home.
Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual is based on the true story of Riaz Khan. Set against the backdrop of huge racial tension in 1980s Britain, Riaz is a Leicester lad just trying to find his place in the world, and watch a bit of footie with his mates while he’s at it. Unable to do basic activities like visit his own city centre for fear of being abused or attacked on the street, he eventually found solace in the ‘Casual’ culture when he got involved with the Baby Squad.
For anyone ignorant to what that means (like me, two days ago), the ‘casual’ culture refers to groups of lads heavily involved in their local football team, often wearing designer labels, who fight against other groups of lads wearing designer labels supporting other visiting teams. In these groups, the lads often find solace, friendship and acceptance. Many have described the 80s as the darkest period of English football history, and football hooliganism is obviously still an on-going problem to this day. But, in Riaz’s own words, “Back in those days we felt we were fighting not just with other firms but against the system, against the injustices we saw from the government and society.”
Adapted from Riaz’s own memoirs and adapted by Dougal Irvine, the staging of the production is incredibly simple. There really isn’t very much set at all, apart from Leicester City Football Club signage and props dotted around the stage. The material is powerful enough to fill an entire auditorium all by itself, though.
The cast consists of just two actors, Jay Varsani (Riaz Rhan) and Hareet Deol (Suf Khan). With only each other to bounce off and quite a long production length, they could quite easily have been swamped under the circumstances. They’re both did an outstanding job of delivering very powerful and emotional performances and they should be incredibly proud of what they’ve done for this city.
A particularly powerful moment it seemed for everyone in the audience was when the real Riaz Khan takes to the stage to finish his story at the end of the show, shaking hands with the actor who has played him. I can only imagine what that must have felt like for both of them.
The odd line was difficult to hear due to the sheer speed of delivery of lines, and I do wonder whether it maybe could have been even more powerful if it was shorter and lost the interval, but all in all this is another phenomenal show from Curve.
I felt incredibly proud watching this production, and genuinely feel it should be should be a mandatory history lesson. As a born and bred Leicester girl and the daughter of an avid LCFC supporter, it really did resonate with me and it is sure to leave a lasting impression on many who watch Riaz’s story.
Reviewed by Rosie Bambury
Photo: Ellie Kurttz