Don't Take Offence, Now...
Chris Thompson's Albion
Bush Theatre | London
directed by Ria Parry
“I've got a gay, I've got a black. Everyone still thinks we're the fucking BNP. What more do these people want?” So moans Paul Ryman (Steve John Shepherd), the sweary landlord of proper East End boozer The Albion and leader (for now) of the BNP-like English Protection Army (EPA). These aren't your average hate-filled scumbags: Paul's deputy and best mate, Kyle (Delroy Atkinson) is black, while his tracksuited scally little brother Jayson (Tony Clay) is gay – and, moreover, having a fling with a nice Asian lad, Aashir (Dharmesh Patel).
Paul's little tribe is indeed more than a little hate-filled, though, and believe their English identities are under threat from other communities in their area (specifically Muslim). But they increasingly understand that to be taken even half-seriously and grow the ranks of the EPA they need to stop acting like thugs and be a bit more politically correct – and herein lies the central paradox and scary comedy of Albion.
Embracing diversity and acceptable language to further their pro-English goals leads to all sorts of hilarious and scary confusion in this fast and furious production. Laugh-out-loud performances go hand in hand with wry observations that examine the rise of the 'reformed', 'nice' far right in Britain today.
The play's structure presents such grim subject matter with an ingenious and very entertaining twist. The audience is inside The Albion, sat around the garish swirly carpet, pool table, big screens and St George's flag. It's karaoke night, and each scene is a different karaoke song (some of the many belted-out tunes which fit the action include 'Who Do You Think You Are?', 'Seven Nation Army', 'I Will Survive', and 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' – not all obvious choices for a play ostensibly about racist morons). Audience members can see the lyrics on the TV screens and hum along too.
The sound quality is great, and I particularly enjoyed it when song lyrics segued into spoken dialogue, and then back again.
Writer Chris Thompson used to be a social worker, and actually some of Albion's most acute and troubling insights focus on the potentially corrupting influences of political-correctness-gone-mad within the workings of government, and social services in particular. Without wanting to spoil the plot, I will say that former social worker Christine (Natalie Casey) comes terrifyingly into her own towards the end, a slick professional to Paul's ranting amateur.
Bush Theatre moved to its current home in an old library from a local pub a few years ago. Its commitment to challenging new writing and themes with particular relevance to the local community in which it exists are given perfect expression in this arresting show.
photo | ©Richard Davenport