In summer 2012, the nation renegotiated its relationship with cynicism. Galvanised by Mitt Romney’s ill-judged insult at the country’s readiness for the Olympic Games there was a surge of something like community. And the many who felt the Olympic spirit were not united against something or someone, but instead buoyed by nice things like success and the vicarious joy of winning a gold medal. Rewind seven years to 7 July 2005 and, again, there was a unity, a solidarity. But this time it was born of fear and hatred and a desire for retribution.
Vinay Patel’s monologue jumps back and forth between these two events to follow the progression of a teenager, third generation Indian immigrant, Rahul. Sid Sagar performs at a brisk pace with subtle, sometimes too subtle, changes in demeanour to signify the different time periods and the different characters. A couple of moments hit harder than the rest: such as when he looks around on the bus, mired in grief because his grandfather is dying, and he understands mortality. As he cries, a couple offers him a tissue. “They will die someday,” he thinks, “there are still so many people to bury and burn”.
Much of Patel’s script picks up on the noughties teen experience – UCAS, young love, MSN and post-A level holidays to the south of Spain where the absinthe is cheap. He creates a sweet and thoughtful character in Rahul, although as Rahul gets tested by the growing suspicion towards people with dark skin post 7/7 he becomes much less sweet. Patel tosses little bits of poetry into throwaway lines: Rahul says of his immigrant grandfather “You could look into his eyes and see the arc of history”. Patel does not dwell on these gems – Rahul moves swiftly on.
Although contrast is an important part of the play – particularly between teen blissful ignorance and later cynicism – there is too strong a dissonance between the lightness of being young and the complexities of identity and race. Amid the first kiss and the Blur concerts are attempts to understand the way a nation copes with terrorism and collective mourning. The Americans, Rahul says with something like scorn, have turned 9/11 into “an eternal performance of grief”.
True Brits tries to do too many things at once. It conjures the easiness of teenage life, people’s uneasy attitude towards Islam and brown skin, it shows that life for many people became unfairly difficult after 7/7. It seeks to unify Rahul’s many identities – teenager, Indian, British, victim, suspect, boyfriend – but in doing so it sets itself a task that it cannot quite achieve.
True Brits is at Assembly Hall (Venue 35) until 25 August (not 11). For more information and tickets visit the EdFringe website.