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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Shan Khan's Office politics
Mark Tonderai and Alvin Shah
Showtime and Sharky are drug-dealers at King's Cross
Shan Khan's debut play Office has nabbed a prime spot at the Edinburgh International Festival.

It has already raised a few genteel eyebrows amongst those who see the Fringe as the place for such an edgy work.

Shan Khan
Office won Khan the Verity Bargate award for new writing
For far from being set around the photocopier, the office in question is a phone booth at a street corner in London's seedy King's Cross.

The two protagonists - Sharky and Showtime - are in the business of drugs and prostitution.

"I knew full well what audiences I'd get up here," says Khan who wanted to write a play for new, younger audiences.

"Its Edinburgh Festival - they'll go to the Magic Flute on Monday, Office on Tuesday, Cosi Fan Tutte on Wednesday.

"They don't know they just buy tickets."

It is bizarre that the same language can apply to two drug dealers running their business out of a telephone box at Kings Cross as it can to say Richard Branson in his company

Shan Khan

A glance around the audience the night I attended bore Khan out; there were no hip young things, let alone any non-whites.

But Khan is convinced the play will reach a new audience if it gets enough of a run, and he is not despairing of reaching audiences with a new message.

"I'd like to think they'd see that the young hoodlums they see on the street are not just hoodlums - these people just feel put down and they are looking for something else.

"They might find that something else in drugs or by turning to Islam or, like Showtime character is, trying to put together a family."

When I put it to him that he may just be perpetuating the stereotype by portraying an Asian and mixed race character as drug dealers, he refutes the charge.

'New culture'

He says that he never stipulated the race of the characters - they could as easily be any other colour, creed or age.

"They're not necessarily Black, Asian, White, they're more a reflection of what I think is important," says Khan.

"They're part of a new culture that's born of Americanisms, hip-hop culture, neither Black nor White, it's everything."

In fact he says he would love to see Showtime played by a white actor, in order to demonstrate that there is a real-life version of Ali G.

"Sasha Baron Cohen has his finger on the pulse - it's a caricature, but very close to the truth," he says.

Khan himself has found his race a factor in his career.

He started out as an actor, and a relatively successful one - taking the lead in Channel 4's Bombay Blue.

But he soon realised that even that break did not mean much when it came to an Asian actor breaking into mainstream film roles.

"It was insulting to be offered Indian waiters again," says Khan, still cross at the thought.

scene from Office
Khan is a native of Glasgow, who rented a flat in London
"I really can't imagine that they'd do that to Ewan McGregor after his first break.

"It wouldn't even come into their heads."

He started writing Office with the aim of creating something that his brothers would want to see and also because he observed drug-dealers working in a way that resembled traditional office behaviour.

The drug trade is shown to be capitalism incarnate.

"It is bizarre that the same language can apply to two drug dealers running their business out of a telephone box at Kings Cross as it can to say Richard Branson in his company," says Khan.

Sharky and Showtime use management speak and in a way that feels totally authentic.

They talk about stress in the workplace, the waste of man hours in chasing an addict who owes them money.

Sharky sells out the family business for his own sideline - and pays the price.

Khan denies that he is a political playwright but agrees that he had a political point to make about the changing nature of the workplace and of Britain itself.

"One metaphor I use is, like, when you watch Latin American players scoring a goal they always look up to God and cross themselves.

"But if you watch a European scoring a goal, they immediately look to the fans - saying 'Look at me, how great I am'.

"It's a reflection of the way Britain has become, its turning toward the individual entrepreneur and yourself, yourself, yourself. Just go and make some money - pure capitalism."

Shan Khan on drug dealing
"I saw it with my own eyes"
Shan Khan on his big break
"I put my money where my mouth was"
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