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A Day at the Racists

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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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 characters.

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.


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