A Day at the Racists, Anders
Lustgarten’s new play about the rise of the BNP in Barking, East London, is a
must-see for anyone concerned about the threat of extreme nationalism and
curious to explore the context behind that threat. The play tells the story of former
local Labour Party activist Peter Case (Julian Littman), a man frustrated by
a welfare state he feels has let him down.
When the charming Gina White
(Thusitha Jayasundera), a mixed race Asian woman, arrives at his door to
canvas for the British National Party, Peter is bemused but ultimately
persuaded to join and becomes her campaign organiser for the upcoming election.
Littman’s portrayal of Peter as he wrestles against his
instinctive revulsion for what the BNP stand for is enthralling to watch. While
not a wholly sympathetic character, Peter is devoted to his grown-up son Mark,
an East End geezer played with considerable finesse and humour by Sam
Swainsbury, Mark’s daughter Ella (who does not appear) and Peter’s best friend
Clinton (Trevor A Toussaint), a hugely likable character who ends up as the
mouthpiece for a great deal of the play’s wisdom.
Director Ryan McBryde brings a fantastic lightness of
touch to Lustgarten’s play, helping this superb ensemble unlock the many funny
and touching moments that make A Day at the Racists such a
successful piece of political theatre. Mila Sanders’ bare design keeps the
Finborough’s petite playing space clear for the cast to bring multi-cultural
Barking to life before us.
The play is not without its flaws. The two romances,
although well acted for the most part, feel like they’ve been crowbarred into a
drama that doesn’t want them. Zaraah Abrahams’s Zenobia, Mark’s love interest
as well as his daughter’s primary school teacher, is surely too switched on to
have fallen for the sweet but clueless Mark. Peter and Gina’s affair is also
unconvincing and undermines the individual integrity of these tortured
These weaknesses however are slight when compared with the
great strengths of this play. By examining the social and economic factors
behind the rise of support for the BNP in Barking via a story that is richly
human in its appeal, Rogue State Theatre Company and the Finborough have
created a piece of work with the potential to further the debate surrounding
extreme nationalism while simultaneously teaching us about ourselves.