THE VAULT FESTIVAL 2015
At the beginning of True Brits Rahul (David Mumeni) looked me right in the eye and asked me what it meant to be British. I floundered, genuinely unsure, but thankfully it was a rhetorical question. My moment of anxiety stayed with me as Vinay Patel’s play explored the fall and rise of British national identity from 2005 to 2012 through the eyes of a second generation Asian from Bexleyheath, South London.
True Brits uses 18 year old Rahul as a symbol of the young Asian experience. He feels more connected to the dirty Thames than the holy Ganges and spends more time playing FIFA or awkwardly chatting to girls on MSN than worshipping. Rahul considers himself British, and why wouldn’t he? He had never questioned his identity until it was questioned by others. Returning from a post-A levels lads’ holiday in Spain, his mum advises him to shave of his beard and start wearing a see-through backpack. He finds the London and Britain he left have changed. At first it just takes him longer to get through airport security but he suddenly faces daily prejudice and racist songs on his bus journey.
By focusing on two such contrasting moments as the nation-wide horror following the 7/7 bombings and the national elation surrounding the Olympics of London 2012, Patel does something insightful and questioning. Clashing the shame and the pride, the enforced stop-and-searches with the forced patriotism, he picks apart national identity until it lies in tatters of red, white and blue – and brown.
The problem with True Brits is that for all its subtle observation and bold provocation it’s too ambitious to really be successful. Predictably, one man cannot carry the burden of a whole nation’s grief, or its celebration, and Rahul’s story isn’t quite as universal as it wants to be. There are a several plot lines crammed into the second half of the hour-long performance that aren’t quite developed enough to give the ending the sucker punch of emotion it builds up to.
True Brits attempts to write a new national anthem of love and struggle and tolerance to be sung loud and proud to a tune that’s a mix of Blur and Jerusalem, standing tall and draped in a Union Jack. What it gets is just as muddled as that mash up sounds but there’s a lasting flicker of hope that’s comforting to cling to and a promising necessity in Patel’s passionate and original writing.