Socialist Worker

Protesters demand 'right to reply' to England People Very Nice

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2141

Anti-racist campaigners from London's East End held a vocal protest outside the National Theatre on Friday of last week.

They were demanding a right to reply to the National's play 'England People Very Nice', which presents crude and racist stereotypes of the East End's immigrant populations – especially Bangladeshi Muslims and Irish people.

Hussain Ismail, who organised the protest, spoke to Socialist Worker about the aims of the campaign.

'We don't want to ban this play, but we do want a proper debate – one that is open and real, not a panel of directors and producers where we have no right to reply,' he said.

'I am proud to be a Londoner and an East Ender. The East End is one of the most multicultural parts of London and that's a great thing. We've fought long and hard in anti-racism campaigns over the years to create this kind of society.'

Paul O'Brien, a writer on theatre from Ireland, was also at the protest.

'Theatre is at its best when it engages people and reflects the outside world,' he told Socialist Worker.

'It seems to me this play is about people who do not come to this theatre, but who live only a short distance away. This play talks about them without engaging with them.

'The stereotypes presented here are the ones we want to put behind us. We have moved on – and this kind of prejudice should no longer shape the way we see each other.'

Hussain later confronted the play's writer Richard Bean at a talk he was giving at the National Theatre. He briefly occupied the stage along with a fellow protester.

'We decided that a peaceful stage invasion would force a discussion of racism in the play – a discussion that has been blocked by the National,' he said.

The controversy over England People Very Nice has spilled over into the mainstream press. Some critics and commentators have criticised its use of crude stereotypes – but right wingers have praised the play for its 'brave' attacks on Muslims.

The protesters now plan to ramp up their campaign with another demonstration outside the National at 2pm on Saturday 21 March.

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Wed 4 Mar 2009, 17:48 GMT
Issue No. 2141
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