This West End studio revival of Joy Wilkinson’s 2005 play had been scheduled long before it became topical, in the wake of the British National Party’s successes in this month’s local elections. She articulates the feelings behind this upsurge rather better than she does with its liberal opposition, even though her sympathies are clearly with the latter.
When Melanie and Railton meet on a fairground ride in a Lancashire town, he doesn’t know that she’s trying to induce a miscarriage of the foetus conceived on a gap-year trip to India, and she doesn’t know that he is a BNP supporter continuing his father’s work of trying to turn the annual fair itself into a St George’s Day celebration of white Englishness. Over the 80 minutes of the action, it is easy to overlook much of Melanie’s character (she feels out of place in her home town for opposite reasons, and her liberalism has ivory-tower middle-class origins), and to discount almost entirely the appearances of the ghost of Railton’s father, who does little if anything to illuminate his son’s attitudes. But where the play scores is that it does not automatically demonise far-right sympathies.
Wilkinson suggests that Railton’s hated “them” have no real cohesive characteristics except as a scapegoat for the perceived marginalisation of “us”. It is a sense of deprivation – and, in that punning title, of unfair deprivation – that fuels his rancour. (I was bizarrely reminded of Sondheim’s Assassins, with its chorus of presidential killers and wannabes wailing their bitter disillusionment with the chimeric American Dream, “Where’s my prize?”) Such a sense, however justified it may or may not be in various instances, needs to be addressed; otherwise it is understandable that a box-ticking multi-culti celebration of “diversity” and “accessibility”, as organised by Melanie, may be seen as at best a pointless distraction and at worst a waste of money and other resources. This imperfect play, clearly inspired by the riots in Burnley and Oldham in 2001, may have inadvertently found its moment now as offering a glimpse of the motives for political rather than violent discontent. And life may always be unfair, but, just as Railton and Melanie eventually begin to overcome their reciprocal political deafness, we too can at least try to base our criticisms of other views on a fair hearing of them.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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