Posted by Laurence Green

The turbulent rise of the new far right in modern-day Britain is explored by Chris Thompson in his explosive, timely play Albion (Bush Theatre), directed by Ria Parry.

Albion at Bush Theatre

It’s Saturday night at the East End pub The Albion, which is the unofficial home of the English Protection Army. Their leader Paul, who runs the pub where karaoke nights are regular fixtures, values diversity, but his activism turns to anger after a relative’s abuse is ignored and his soldier sister Poppy dies while serving in Afghanistan. Meanwhile his gay younger brother Jayson forms a close relationship with Aashir, a middle class British Asian man. Behind the scenes the leadership of the EPA is falling apart. Arguments rage over tactics: Paul knows the public won’t listen to a bunch of hooligans but his black deputy is spoiling for a fight and others like scapegoated social worker Christine are sure that the key to success is in the company you keep and the language you speak. Just how far can the far right go?

Polemic and music become entwined in this disturbing drama. As songs by the Spice Girls and Tom Jones roll out, so do the issues of Islamophobia national identity and the inclusion of ‘Sikhs, Hindus and Gays’ in the EPA. The regular outbursts of karaoke that become interspersed with the action, feel like a vital outlet for otherwise pent-up emotions and lighten the gravity of the subject matter. Rather than making the characters completely unsympathetic, Thompson endows them with complexity and we see how their vacuous nationalism is a reaction to middle-class pieties.

The play admittedly takes a while to get going and would have benefitted from being more tightly edited. But the story which unfolds in short sharp bursts ensures the tension never waivers and our interest never flags. The most memorable scene is when Christine’s rendition of “It’s Raining Men” takes on a new significance as riot images are projected on a television screen.

Parry elicits excellent performances from a sterling cast, most notably Steve John Shepherd (of “EastEnders” fame) as the zealous, charismatic Paul, Tony Clay as his more restrained younger brother Jayson, Delroy Atkinson as his deputy Kyle, strongly committed to the cause, and Natalie Casey as Christine, the social worker who develops into a ruthless politician.

This combination of provocation conflict and division provides a thought provoking state-of-the-nation- drama that invites us to confront uncomfortable issues.

Runs until October 25

Box office: 020 8743 5050

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