The row brewing over England People Very Nice, a topical play at the National Theatre, is the latest episode in the confused controversy over free speech and multiculturalism. From the Guardians news story : England Very Nice has incestuous, pig-breeding, drunken Irishmen, snooty Frenchmen, farcical Jewish anarchists and the animated presence of a mad mullah ranting about how women must be subservient to men
. England People Very Nice, a new play by the award-winning dramatist Richard Bean about successive waves of immigration to the east end of London, has been labelled racist and offensive by the communities it portrays..
Yet to the Daily Telegraph it offers a topical treat. To the Times it shows joyful ebullience Although shrouded in evasion and euphemism the multicultural debate is not as black and white so to speak as some would like to think, as the New Statesmans blogs on the banning of Dutch MP Wilders shows.
Daily Telegraph a topical treat
This is not a play for the squeamish. The often-filthy language makes Jonathan Ross sound like a vicar at a Mothers’ Union tea party, and Bean gleefully parades and chuckles at racial stereotypes as if political correctness hadn’t been invented.
The Times joyful ebullience
Will the Thames run with blood, to repeat a quote frequently cited in the play? Its the sort of question a genuinely national theatre should be asking.
Now I havent seen the play. Newsnight reviewers werent keen and thought it didactic and crude. But I have seen a play on a similar theme which respects the ethnic characters and directs its aim at attempts to codify British citizenship. The comedy in David Edgars Testing the Echo lies
mostly by the conflicting notions of the British way of life and some of the ridiculous definitions, as well as some of the more absurd questions in the citizen test. In the final scene everyone gives their idea of what they believe to be British.. Tradition, rolling back through the centuries, Gods law at the very heart of civic life and the inconsistent Our tolerance is what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it or dont come here.
If you laugh with the ethnic characters at Britishness, you get away with it. Laugh at racial stereotypes, and you get it in the neck, especially from the politically aroused who willfully refuse to understand the wider conventions of dramatic language and bristle with intolerance and insecurity.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London