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A Day at the Racists
A Day at the Racists opens with a jokey, satirical song from a group of newly arrived illegal immigrants, some wearing the burqa, about the supposed benefits and housing handed out to newly arrived asylum seekers. But that is where the similarity to Richard Bean's England People Very Nice ends because A Day at the Racists, grounded in reality, gets altogether more possible, more violent and more serious than Bean's satirical comedy. (Review of England People Very Nice)
Pete Case (Julian Littman) once worked as a trade union activist in the car industry in Essex, that is when England still manufactured motor cars. Now he lives by odd jobbing as a painter and decorator for Clinton (Trevor A. Toussaint) who is originally from the Caribbean. Pete, often laid off, sees much of the decorating work going to competitors from Eastern Europe, undercutting Londoners, and Pete's son Mark (Sam Swainsbury) can't get a job or onto the housing list for accommodation for himself and his daughter Ella. These factors draw Pete to consider the party that looks out for their own, the BNP, and when he meets Gina White (Thusitha Jayasundera ) a mixed race, Anglo Pakistani candidate for parliament, his interest is fired. Gina identifies herself as British and dispossessed by the new immigrants. Agreeing on many of the issues they debate and spotting a fellow traveller, Gina asks Pete to manage her campaign. Pete's involvement with the racist BNP will not be understood by his friends and family. We also meet Zenobia (Zaraah Abraham), Ella's primary school teacher which allows Lustgarten to introduce us to political ideas about education, schools and multiculturalism.
The Labour Party isn't the only political party in a state of flux. A traditional skinhead type, mindlessly aggressive and racist Tony McDonald (Gwilym Lloyd) sees his party being taken over by those with more political expediency with a view to a more acceptable face, turning support into votes and votes into seats. Rick Coleman (Nick Holder) is the new style BNP management and who has recruited Gina for her racial newsworthiness.
Anders Lustgarten writes vivid, realistic often witty dialogue about the uncomfortable issues that divide father and son, and the wider alienation of New Labour from its core support. There is violence not far from the surface as racist fuelled behaviour bites. Ryan McBryde of Rogue State Theatre Company crisply directs in the Finborough's close up playing area where the front row of the audience almost seem to be a part of the political crowd.
The ensemble performances are strong with interesting cameos from Vanessa Havell as a middle class apologist Labour MP and a journalist, among others. I particularly liked Thusitha Jayasundera's genuine political ingenue and Julian Littmann is convincing as the man disillusioned by the party he once worked so hard for.
A Day at the Racists is original, thought provoking and very well written.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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