The Theatreguide.London Review
at the Racists
This telling and moving new drama announces the definitive arrival, after a few earlier plays, of a very talented and important young writer, Anders Lustgarten.
A Day at the Racists is that very rate thing, a thesis-driven political play whose debate is intellectually stimulating and engrossing while its characters are real, rounded and believable.
At the play's centre is Pete, lifelong Londoner, former union organiser (and thus unusually socially committed and politically aware), and loving father and grandfather.
But the East End has changed too much for him - the contractor he works for is losing jobs to cheaper Polish competitors, his son can't get a flat because priority is given to presumably needier immigrants, his granddaughter is taught all sorts of multicultural things in school but none of the history he knows and loves, and daily life has become a cacophony of strange languages, smells and music.
Enter Gina, young, ambitious, well-spoken, half-Pakistani and, improbably, candidate for Parliament for the ultra-right British National Party. The BNP has changed, she claims, as her candidacy proves - no longer defined by racism and xenophobia, but now by positive support for the little man.
Pete hits her with all the right objections - and the debates between them are really good, as are the several subsidiary debates that go on between other characters - and she gradually convinces him to the point that he joins her campaign. But has the BNP really changed? Is it just using Gina as a front? Or is she using it for her own personal ambitions?
While on one level the play offers a clear and convincing explanation of how a reasonable non-racist could be drawn into the BNP, on its more intimate and human level it does not allow Pete to live easily with his political choice, and thus involves us emotionally in his painful self-examination.
All credit to the playwright and to director Ryan McBryde and his entire cast, who make every one of the characters, even the most extreme, round and real.
As Pete, Julian Littman creates a character Arthur Miller would recognise, the good man making choices for all the right reasons and then facing heroically up to the obligation to live with them.
Thusitha Jayasundera rightly keeps us unsure about just how committed Gina is, and to what, leaving us with the suspicion that she might be able to argue either side of any issue with equal brilliance, depending on where her personal best interests lay.
Sam Swainsbury, Zaraah Abrahams and Trevor A. Toussaint contribute to the reality and believability of the play as Pete's family and friends, while Gwilym Lloyd keeps an unreconstructed old-line BNP racist from becoming just a cartoon, and Nick Holder quickly and convincingly sketches in an even more frightening BNP leader, one clever enough to hide his ugliness behind softer language and a brown-skinned candidate.
Director McBryde stumbles at only a couple of points, perhaps constrained by this fringe production's limited resources. But an opening scene meant to be a nightmare distortion of multicultural London has been softened to play as harmlessly and cheerily as a TV advert, and a scene of a woman being attacked by BNP toughs has had some of its sharper edges blunted.
A Day at the Racists deserves a longer life than its month at this tiny Earls Court pub theatre. But just in case it doesn't get it, I encourage you to rush to the Finborough to see it.
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Review - A Day at the Racists - Finborough 2010