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Who Do We Think We Are? - Imagining the nightmare of a fascist-run Britain

A group of young people involved in the first staging of a new anti-fascist play earlier this month spoke to Esme Choonara about the show and the issues it raises

Issue No. 2179

The cast onstage

The cast onstage


The year is 2030. The fascist British National Party (BNP) has been in power for 15 years.

People are rigidly ranked according to their degree of Anglo-Saxon purity. Mixing between groups is not allowed.

Deviation from BNP orders is severely punished. Curry, pizzas, jazz and historical truths are all banned.

So what happens when a group of young people start asking questions, and when they venture to the ghetto where those excluded from the BNP’s world – the black, Asian, Jewish, gay and disabled people – are forced to live?

This is the plot of Who Do We Think We Are?, a new play by John Cresswell, written in the wake of the BNP’s gains in the European elections earlier this year.

It was staged for the first time this month with a cast of young people from Burnt Hill Performing Arts College in Harlow, Essex, in collaboration with local theatre and dance groups.

“I really liked the play’s message,” says Jennie, who played Daisy, one of the lead characters. “This was different to any shows we have done before – it felt like there was a real purpose to it.

“It came after the row about Nick Griffin going on Question Time – so there was already something there to spark debate.”

Brilliant

The play integrates visual slides and dance into the show as well as a brilliant soundtrack.

Michael and Katie were involved in performing the music live on stage. They both think the play reached a new audience.

“It wasn’t a political rally, it was a show,” says Michael. “Because of the honesty of the play, and how blunt and straight to the point it was, I think it had more effect than simply holding a rally would have done.”

“And it didn’t have a happy ending,” adds Katie. “I like that – because if the BNP was in power it wouldn’t be happy.”

Keyibue, who played ghetto-dweller Aysha, says that since the play a lot of people have quizzed her about what she thinks would happen if the BNP came to power.

“The play has made people ask questions who might not have thought about this issue before,” she says. “My mate told me that her mum voted BNP – she came to see the show and now she feels bad.

“Some people think fascism couldn’t happen here – that people have too much common sense. But there is support for the BNP because people are frustrated that the current government isn’t doing anything to help them.

“It’s what happened with Hitler. The BNP is getting popular now because we are in a credit crunch and people can’t get jobs.”

Harlow is an area that the BNP has targeted in the past – and all the young people I spoke to said they know

people who have supported the BNP, and that racism is a big issue in the area.

“For our grandparents’ generation, it was the way they were brought up,” says Michael. “So maybe it’s hard for them to adjust.”

Jennie replies, “But that’s not an excuse. It may be how you are brought up, but you can change it.

“People say something like, it’s not my fault – my dad is racist. Well then they should tell him to stop.”

Jennie adds that it is going to be down to young people to stop the rise of the BNP. “It’s going to be up to us,” she says. “We will have to sort it out.

“If you think about when the play is set, it would have been our generation that let this happen. That’s quite scary.”

“Some young people do get these attitudes from their parents,” Keyibue says. “Someone I know said that she would vote BNP if she had the chance.

“And my friends asked whether she knew that would mean I would be kicked out of the country. She replied that she didn’t want that – I am OK.

“Another person said to me, ‘Why don’t they take all the immigrants and put them in Wales, and then put all the Welsh people in England.’ And I was just thinking, ‘Really? Do you think that would work? Would that be a normal thing to do?’”

The play is hard-hitting. It shows the fascist politics and authoritarianism of the BNP taken to their logical conclusions.

Notion

There is a very funny scene that mocks the notion of racial purity.

And the show is brought alive by some great dance scenes – in particularly excellent “fight scene” set to The Clash’s Guns of Brixton.

But there are also moments that show the brutality of Nazi rule. Two characters in particular play thuggish “enforcers”.

Michael thinks this is one of the strongest parts of the play. “They never say anything, but they control people,” he explains.

The show doesn’t just deal in the fictional – the sinister character of Chairman Nick Griffin lurks in the background of the play.

And towards the end of the play a series of contemporary quotes from BNP figures exposes their vile views in their own words.

One slide carries a quote from Nick Eriksen, the BNP’s former London organiser, who compares rape to “force feeding a woman chocolate cake”.

“That was the most powerful moment for me,” says Katie. “I know a lot of people were really shocked by that.”

The creators of Who Do We Think We Are? hope that other schools and youth groups will stage it. If your school or community group would like to produce the play, please contact Socialist Worker for more information and a copy of the script


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Reviews
Tue 24 Nov 2009, 18:05 GMT
Issue No. 2179
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