England People Very Nice

Posted on: 20 February 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Richard Bean’s disastrously unfunny new play England People Very Nice.

Immigration is no laughing matter, judging by Richard Bean’s disastrously unfunny new play England People Very Nice at the NT’s Olivier auditorium.

This mock satirical journey through four waves of immigration from the 17th century to the present day is staged as a play within a play by a group of asylum seekers awaiting their fate. 

As the French Huguenots, the Irish, the Jews and the Bangladeshis in turn enter the chaotic world of Bethnal Green, each new influx provokes a surge of violent protest over housing, jobs, religion and culture.  And the emerging pattern shows that white flight and anxiety over integration are anything but new.

Essentially a series of disconnected episodes that take in church, synagogue and mosque, the story - what I could make of it - centres on a pair of star-crossed lovers and cutters’ mobs, Papists, Jewish anarchists and radical Islamists across four tempestuous centuries.

This so-called ‘comedy’, although based on fact, lacks any true sense of understanding of immigrants’ problems in the new world of England, and is cartoonish and offensive where it should have been humane, relying on wisecracking jocularity to paper over the deficiencies of the plot. 

We even have musicians at the side of the stage to jolly things along.  It is as if director Nicholas Hytner (surprising) was unsure whether he was staging a musical, a drama or a comedy and misfired on all three! 

Make no mistake I like sharp satire but this work lacks intelligence, humour and conflict, merely striving for controversy by resorting to gross caricature and stereotypes.

On this occasion I feel it is better if the cast remains anonymous.  A dire evening in the theatre!

By Laurence Green

Show Details

When: Plays in repertory

Where: NT’s Olivier auditorium

Box Office: 020 7452 3000.

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