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REVIEW - England People Very Nice at the National Theatre

PUBLISHED: 17:10 11 March 2009 | UPDATED: 14:10 05 October 2010

EAST End author Rabina Khan, whose latest book Behind the Hijab was launched last week, was due to speak at a platform at the National Theatre about England People Very Nice but withdrew from the engagement after seeing the play. Here she tells us what sh

EAST End author Rabina Khan, whose latest book Behind the Hijab was launched last week, was due to speak at a platform at the National Theatre about England People Very Nice but withdrew from the engagement after seeing the play. Here she tells us what she thinks.

HAVING read the script initially of England People Very Nice I went to see the play to view it in production. It was a Saturday evening and as I hustled up the busy stairs to the Olivier theatre I was consciously aware that the sea of many faces surrounding were mainly white.

In front sat four older white middle class people who smiled very politely at myself, and my daughter.

Bean attempts to portray tired stereotypes, which bear little resemblance to reality in modern society.

The distasteful diatribe against immigrants is littered throughout, with cutting one liners.

There is no doubt that England People Very Nice will attract fiercely divided opinion on a play within a play, which spans four centuries of immigrants arriving in London's East End, is racially offensive and lacking in political correctness from the first scene.

It appears to be based on poor stereotypes and uneducated inaccuracies, rather than well-researched historical fact, but maybe that is the whole idea.

We have to consider the reasons behind the playwright's creation of a farce that will inevitably leave a high percentage of the audience feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

Is he trying to convey his own true feelings about multiculturalism and immigration, or is he attempting to demonstrate that Britain as a society is still a largely racist, intolerant nation, which has tried to mask its prejudice by providing a haven for a regular flow of immigrants?

Is he daring to say what he believes everyone else is thinking, or saying behind closed doors?

Or is he simply trying to gain publicity through producing something that is clearly controversial?

The Bangladeshis are the last project as described by Bean and we wait to see what they appear to end in. In essence, the East End is a collective of projects that have developed over many years, not a collective of people with human stories that have challenged hardships to become a collective of diversity.

Whatever one's view on the play's content, one has to question whether it is a topic that is appropriate for the National Theatre.

There are specialist theatre companies that tackle the sensitive issues of racism, homophobia, ageism and prejudice against disabled people, whereas the National Theatre is a platform for entertainment.

But what I remember most from that evening is when a white character screamed the word "Nigger" within the play and the audience burst into laughter.

My daughter asked me why the audience found the word "Nigger" so hilarious. With the US election of Barack Obama, making racism entertaining is not ethically acceptable in an era where Britain should be moving forward.

There are three references in the play to "rivers of blood", echoing Enoch Powell's controversial speech in opposition to mass Commonwealth immigration to Britain in 1968.

These references to political racism in the past are unnecessary. They simply reinforce the notion that Britain is against multiculturalism.

Again, maybe the author is trying to pass the buck by reminding the audience that these words came from a high-profile person within the government.

In general, the National Theatre attracts a white, middle class audience. It appears that staging this play at such a venue is for the prime aim of making the privileged laugh at those less fortunate than themselves, or those about whom they know so little and cannot relate in any way, shape or form.

Would, they laugh so heartily if a play were written that dehumanised the middle and upper-classes?

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