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Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
Theatre review: A Day at the Racists 
24th-Mar-2010 11:53 pm
tragicomedavatar
In the runup to every election my building gets flooded with a pile of leaflets from the British National Party, with their carefully-worded messages attempting to disguise their core ideals and make people vote for them in the belief that they no longer represent bigotry. Anders Lustgarten's A Day at the Racists takes this spin-doctoring to its logical extreme by having the BNP field a female, mixed-race candidate, Gina (Thusitha Jayasundera.) One argument about the recent rise in the BNP's popularity is that Labour has betrayed its working-class followers, so Lustgarten centres his story around one such former Labour stalwart, Pete (Julian Littman.) Feeling as if his years of work haven't paid off for him, and angry that his son can't get a council house, Pete starts to find Gina's rhetoric gradually more convincing, until he ends up becoming her campaign manager. Having set up the devil's advocate argument in the first act, of why people might start to be attracted to the BNP, Lustgarten pulls the rug out from under Pete in the second act.

It's a very interesting "what if?" scenario, and well-written with a lot of very dark humour punctuating the serious political points. The production is also fantastically served by director Ryan McBryde and a great cast: Littman and Jayasundera are convincing, Nick Holder as fictional BNP leader Rick is worryingly charming with a hint of something nasty underneath, Vanessa Havell gets to scene-steal in a number of funny small roles, and as an old-school, violent racist thug, Gwilym Lloyd gives one of the most genuinely fucking terrifying performances I've seen on stage for ages. But the evening belongs to Sam Swainsbury as Pete's son Mark, a victim of circumstance who maintains a cheeky enthusiasm and is devoted to his young daughter. I've noticed Swainsbury in things before (and by "noticed" I mean "fancied") most recently The Rivals, but his performance here is something else. Cute and talented, you know that's just going to make me have *bad thoughts.*

Impressive though the play is tonight it was almost overshadowed by a post-show discussion, featuring the author, equality campaigner Justin Baidoo, and the Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge MP (who, thanks to her sitting just along the row from me and speaking within my earshot, I now know actually introduces herself with "Hello, I'm Margaret Hodge MP.") I don't suppose the chances of her getting an easy ride were ever stellar, but surely she put the nail in her own coffin when her very first contribution was to sniffily dismiss the first half of the play as "caricature" because she couldn't imagine the BNP fielding a female, Asian candidate. (As I said at the start of my review I see it as a perfectly acceptable theatrical device to project this kind of extreme; and as Lustgarten countered, there actually is precedent in a Dutch far-right party that has had both a gay man and a Muslim woman as leaders.) From then on it was open season on Hodge as Lustgarten, Baidoo and eventually some of the audience as well laid in to her over New Labour's continuation of Thatcherite policies that may have contributed to people's disillusionment and move to the right. So outnumbered was she, I might have almost felt sorry for her if her response hadn't mainly consisted of an "I know better than you" smile that pretty much confirmed any prejudices you've ever had about politicians. Overall an interesting, bordering-on-the-weird, evening.

A Day at the Racists by Anders Lustgarten is booking until the 27th of March at the Finborough Theatre.
Comments 
25th-Mar-2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
I really like the sound of this one.
The BNP is a huge issue in my neck of the woods....they actually win elections round here sadly.
I'm always fascinated by the fact that the blame for the rise of the BNP always seems to fall on the other parties. I do accept that some of their policies could do with a re-think, but I still don't think that excuses the idiotic voters who actually believe it's ok to support bigotry and prejudice just because you don't get everything you want in life yourself. The public really can be scarily stupid at times...I mean, is really right to entrust our future to the choice of a public who could vote in large numbers for Steve Brookstein??
26th-Mar-2010 12:15 am (UTC)
Since you're interested in the play, remind me nearer the time: It's a playtext programme so I can bring it when I see you, so you can at least read it even if you can't see the show.
26th-Mar-2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
Excellent, thank you.
27th-Mar-2010 10:27 am (UTC)
Anonymous
Sam Swainsbury, mmmm! I was completely in love with him by the end, and wished I'd made more of the opportunities when he practically sat on my knee at The Rivals!
Knowing a little about this subject, I always find it surprising when people say the BNP would never field an Asian candidate when the evidence shows that support for the BNP is steadily rising in British-born mixed-race communities. Hodge really annoys me and she makes it so hard to like her which is a real worry considering Nick Griffin is standing against her this time round, so I end up defending her or at least encouraging people to vote for her regardless.
Anyhoo, good review. I really enjoyed the play and chatted loads to the playwright's father who was a lovely American chap.
Have you got rid of your Gods Weep ticket yet?!!
Ian
27th-Mar-2010 11:49 am (UTC)
That was my reaction to Hodge, I was desperately wanting to like her because of who she's up against but she's so smug and unlikeable you just end up with a really depressing "and this is the good guy?" reaction.

I'm going to brave The Gods Weep (this Monday actually,) partly out of morbid curiosity, and besides the reports are that it's about half the length now that it was when you saw it.
28th-Mar-2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure we have this booked in and it something I look forward to based on your review.
28th-Mar-2010 08:29 pm (UTC)
They said something about doing a couple of performances in the area where it's set, but if you meant seeing it at the Finborough you're too late, it closed last night.
28th-Mar-2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
Oh boo! Gary books all our shows and just puts them in my diary so I trust him to capture everything worth seeing. Mind you I had a frank exchange of emails at the Finborough last time I was there. We had a four bench and they squeezed someone else on which you can imagine didn't go down to well with me :o) Anyway, the Manager said they are so short of cash they are having to over sell. I offered to do him a show myself for families in the area for free - he can keep all ticket sales - I didn't want a penny. One afternoon in the school holiday when the theatre isn't used. But he declined saying he didn't want kids in the place LOL
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