Originally published on A Younger Theatre
Immigration, patriotism and national pride are all supposedly under threat with the impending vote on the EU Referendum. Many of those campaigning for ‘Brexit’ preach that immigration has caused this country to lose its sense of identity, its history and its legacy. Britain has become so multicultural that the essence of being British has been diluted to the point of extinction. But this is only one opinion in a nation divided, split almost completely down the middle and on the precipice of being torn in two. Two sides, two factions that will meet on the battlefield to cast their votes for the future of Britain. British by John McEwan-Whyte examines what it means to be British, to be part of a country seemingly so popular that immigrants from all across the continent are desperate to call their home.
McEwan-Whyte’s one-man show involves three people affected in different ways by the issue of immigration. One is an upper class radicalist, convinced that this great country should remain pure and free from those seeking simply to occupy territory. This is a war and the migrants are the enemy. Another is a working class moderate living in the middle of a multicultural community – the immigrants became his neighbours and are now his friends, because each is judged on their individuality and not their nationality. The final man in British is a Hungarian immigrant desperate to escape his war-torn country and build a better life for his family. Unsure that Britain is indeed the answer, he pins his hopes on this country as his happily ever after. Each character sits on a chair to tell his story: an interview on his background, beliefs and opinions.
The script reads as a panel show of sorts, with each speaker debating the issues before a blackout signifies time on that particular viewpoint and moves onto to hear from the next in line. The play is an undecided observer, flicking from one TV channel to another in an attempt to find something decent to watch. Indeed there are scenes that don’t merit any more attention and plotlines that don’t seem to match up. But there are scenes that deserve more development; all too often a character starts to develop their train of thought only to be halted and substituted out which confuses the plot, throws the audience, and interrupts the overall flow.
As the play reaches its climax, the stories start to converge and the final product is slowly revealed. Throughout the show there is an overall message that Britain is the ‘Land of Hope and Glory‘, an otherworldly nirvana that represents safety and security for all those fortunate enough to reach its shores. But McEwan-Whyte’s portrayal of the upper class radicalist cleverly begs to differ. Through his hate speeches (though unsurprising and superficial in their delivery) he demonstrates that the grass is not always greener; whilst not a country ravaged by war, Britain is far from perfect and indeed not necessarily the hospitable environment that harbours equal opportunity and tolerance to all cultures. Despite being McEwan-Whyte’s weakest character, this representation of evil highlights that Britain is still at war in one form or another.
British is by no means an unbiased play. McEwan-Whyte, a young intelligent playwright, creates a show strongly in favour of immigration, learning from other cultures to evolve into a more accepting society. He seeks to understand what the country fears so that it becomes more familiar, not eschew and label it as detrimental to our great nation. British is a vicious cycle that highlights the perils of ignorance, a show that will resonate more powerfully by leaving more of its final message implied yet unsaid.
British is playing The London Theatre, New Cross until 19 June 2016. For more information and tickets, see The London Theatre website.