The Theatreguide.London Review
Yer Heart Out for the Lads
Roy Williams' dissection of racism in England treats what could be overfamiliar material with a freshness and dramatic insight that makes you think anew about things you thought you had finished thinking about long ago.
In a working class London pub the members of the local football team gather to celebrate a victory. We can't help noticing that a couple of them are black, but one was the game's hero and the other is the white barmaid's former boyfriend, while her white son hangs out with local black kids, so our first impression is of a comfortably integrated neighbourhood.
But the picture begins to crack almost immediately. The most intelligent member of the group is a National Front politician, and another is one of his skinhead toughs. The kid is mugged by his black friends, and the presence of an off-duty cop (the skinhead's brother) among them can't keep racial divisions from coming to the fore and threatening violence.
Williams' dramatic coup is to set all this against an England-Germany football game that they're all watching on the pub TV. So while the group are united in cheering on the England team, they are forced to recognise that some of them are, and will always be considered more "English" than the others.
His other brilliant and daring touch is to make the NF leader the most eloquent and insightful person onstage, so that his position - the one the play and the audience most want to discredit - is given full expression. And the guy is no mindless hooligan like his follower.
He is happy to admit that racism finds a fertile ground among working class whites because they have been marginalised by the white establishment and need some scapegoat to blame. He is even willing to admit that the establishment encourages working class racism in order to deflect the oppressed whites from a Marxist revolution against their real enemy.
His openness makes it impossible to dismiss him and the problem as the product of ignorance and blind prejudice, as the play forces us to become newly aware of the complexities and ironies of racism in England today.
As is often the case with thesis plays, the drama doesn't quite keep up with the debate, as the characters are allowed to become symbols or are manipulated to serve the presentation of the issues. The kids' story is never fully integrated into the rest of the play, the most eloquent black character's anger is presented as a given rather than being realistically motivated, and the inevitable burst of shocking violence at the end comes from the least likely and least understandable source.
Still, the play is well worth seeing for its powerful and original presentation of the issues, and for strong performances all around, most notably by Paul Moriority and Ray Fearon as the primary debaters, white and black.
Return to Theatreguide.London home page.
Review - Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads - National 2004