On Wednesday night the Studio space fills very quickly with audience – clearly many people are interested in True Brits, in questions of ‘true’ and of identity…
In a white box of the stage, blue-lit back wall gives off a cold, sterile futuristic feel, whilst the floor littered with party poppers, empty coffee cups and red brick debris brings to mind the most characteristic elements of our cities: industrial past, rows of small brick houses and modern pleasure-filled night-life.
Is this where we, Brits, live – stretched between crumbling past and unknown future? Suspended in a post-party-hangover present day? If so, it is a very subtle but intriguing suggestion from Zoe Josephine Payne (set design) and Tim Bray (lighting design).
Meanwhile Rahul, the main character of Patel’s play, is equally stretched in time between two events that defined his young life so far: the bombings in 2005 and London Olympics in 2012 (hence the party poppers). At first, it is a coming of age story of an Asian man, third generation of his family in London. We follow his love crush, his A-levels exam struggles, and Spanish absinthe fuelled holiday.
This changes after the 7/7 tragedy: Rahul ceases to be like everybody else. A Londoner from the day he was born, he suddenly becomes one of ‘them’ in the eyes of his fellow countrymen, the ‘other’, the ‘not from here’ one, and never a true Brit. Patel’s honest and at times beautifully poetic writing explores big issues of identity and belonging without judgment and with delicate touch. David Mumeni’s stage presence in this one-man show is fresh, energetic and only at times slightly cumbersome with movement.
All this builds up to an entertaining 1 hour and 15 min: a likable character, first love, loss, a bit of violence in the face of aggressive radical attitude and even a prison spell. Moreover, there is a hope: love may come back, just like an old, favorite tune by The Blur. However I struggled to see a deeper conflict in True Brits: conflict tearing one apart. Conflict, which would attempt to challenge our assumptions about ‘true’ and ‘British’: as audience we unreservedly sympathise with Rahul. But I would also struggle not to enjoy the show: this character full of unjustified optimism is irresistible, this ‘long tradition of getting on’, this light humour of the writing, which turns regrets into slight jokes, all of these attributes are irresistible.
So even though the play will not provoke any major thought avalanches nor attitude changes (Vinay Patel took good care not to offend anybody with his writing), it is a feel good show worth watching for the quality of performance and writing.
by Anna Mors
Star rating ***
Vault Festival, Studio, till 22 February.