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Play Review: Fair
"Dodgems Ė who needs them when we can go round & round in circles by ourselves and get skint and whiplash in the process?"
Fair is a play exploring why the racist, far right British National Party is attracting support in small-town Lancashire, set in the middle of the battle between one group (mainly BNP supporters) who are campaigning for a "traditional" English fair to be held on St George's day and another group who are trying to organise a "multicultural" fair for the future on the first anniversary of the riots.
The two main characters, Railton the ex-fairground worker who has lived in the town all his life, and Melanie the daughter of the principal of the local college who is back, temporarily, to help organise the "fair for the future" start an unlikely love affair and it is their conversations, arguments and bickering which open up the issues at stake.
It is very entertaining to watch. Fair is very funny and well-written, with a lot of good dialogue, and more politically acute in many ways than most media commentary on the issue.
Radicalisation & resentment
It's very good, for example, at the way anger at the destruction of public services and the effects of globalisation can become mixed up in racist attitudes or resentments, and how this becomes a fertile base for groups like the BNP. Like Railton: "Iím not a racist. The problem isnít cohesive fucking blah blah blah. The problemís simple. We pay top dollar for the shittest health, housing, schools and you name it cos your government wants its global economy so we have to give up everything and whateverís left gets diverted to your diverse mates."
Railton also points out that while people like him are being blamed for the rise in votes for the BNP, it was "people in the big Tory houses where you live" that voted in a BNP councillor.
The play has some great spoofs on government consultation and the race relations industry, including "feedback sheets" distributed to the audience. It exposes the emptiness of much of the official "diversity" initiatives, and points out its failure to deal with the reasons why support for the far-right is rising.
But some things were disappointing. For example Railton protests "Iím not a racist thug" when Melanie first attacks some of his political views. But Ė stereotypically - he turns out not just to be a racist thug, but one of the main orchestrators of the racist violence in the town.
Ultimately, despite the outside world intervening in various ingenious plot twists, much of the debate seemed to be taking place in a vacuum. There were various glimpses of an Asian community in the town and people mobilising against racism and the BNP, but none of these important things were ever really brought to life. Nor was it clear how Railton was able to call off the threat of a new riot all by himself.
What solutions are out there?
Fair's major weakness in a political sense was its lack of solutions. Essentially the dispute between the two main characters was resolved by their feelings for each other.
This "resolution" consisted of Railton agreeing to support the "multicultural" fair for the future, i.e. succumbing to the "default" setting of we canít have the BNP therefore we have to support anything that opposes it and says it will bring the community together, no matter how unconvincing or how little it deals with the issues that provoked the problem in the first place.
However it would hardly be fair to blame the playwright for what is missing. Joy Wilkinson has done a valuable service in bringing many of the issues out, particularly in such a human and approachable way.
The root cause of the weakness in the play is the lack of any genuine alternative in society to both the BNP and the establishment political parties that have let down the population so badly.
Anthony Shuster, who plays Railton, writes: "The problem, the mystery (to me) is why no-one else is addressing concerns about lack of welfare provision, job security, inequalities of wealth and opportunity - unfairness, in a nutshell - in the same direct manner as the BNP." When Melanie says to Railton: "You'll have to start again - just pick a different party" he asks her which one, but thereís no answer.
It is tragic that instead of the trade unions fighting to build a new political voice for working people, they are campaigning for voters to stop the BNPÖ by voting for the very political parties whose policies opened the door to Nick Griffin & co.
But itís very good to see that someone has already put a link for the Campaign for a New Workers' Party -www.cnwp.org.uk - on the website set up for the play: www.notfair.co.uk.
Fair is playing at the Trafalgar Studios in central London till 17 June, and is bound to be touring elsewhere after. It is well worth seeing, though the prices can be a shock if you're not used to seeing plays.