I got front row seats for Nasty and I to see England People Very Nice at the National Theatre on Thursday. We sat smack right in the middle of the very first row. The fact that I managed to get these tickets for £10 each is probably one of my proudest moments in London. Ha!
Only when I got there did I realise I have never actually seen a real play before (bar those the drama class put up in school). I thought that was a bit sad, but hey, there’s always a first for everything right?
A comedy chronicling four centuries of immigration into Bethnal Green (in the east end of London), it touched a raw nerve with me. First, immigration itself is a sensitive topic already, no matter where you are, and second, I live in Bethnal Green.
Running quickly through the Romans, Vikings and what-not that initially fought over this island, it then went through relatively more modern times in detail: First came the French to escape religious persecution back home, then the Irish due to the Potato Famine, then the Jews from Russia and Poland, and very recently the Bangladeshis and now the Somalis.
At the arrival of each wave of new comers were uproars against immigration; politics; and struggles with integration – with the integrated French protesting against the Irish, then the integrated Irish protesting against the Jews, then everyone against the Bangladeshis and Somalis.
I was very impressed with the logistics of stage management and the design ability to transform one static stage and background into so many different scenes through the ingenious use of lighting, costumes, music, projectors, and moving parts. You get so used to movies these days you forget all the magic that makes a play work. It’s one of those things that just strikes you as very clever and you go “How in the world do they manage that?!”.
It’s a great play. Funny, entertaining and yet immensely thought-provoking. Nasty and I probably spent the entirety of the next day thinking about it.
Interestingly, with a multi-racial cast and the play about such a sensitive topic, at one point, we turned around and looked at the thousand or so people seated behind us – as far as we could tell, nearly everyone was white and grey-haired.