England, Their England
Edinburgh 2010 – Just The Tonic @ The Caves – 5-29 August 2010 – 22.40 (1:00)
“I hate England”, taunts Paul Ricketts in a thick Jamaican accent at the start of this thoughtful, if occasionally misfiring, stand-up comedy show. The catch is that the comedian was actually born and brought up in England, where his family have lived ever since his grandfather arrived during the Second World War. “I Love England”, he adds, setting the scene for the rest of his performance.
Settling into his own, relatively softly-spoken, English accent he skips over a few one-liners before getting to the meat of his show – the complex relationship between ethnic minorities living in England and the kind of patriotism which surrounds major sporting events. In particular, he addresses attitudes towards the St Georges Cross flag and the English football strip using his own experiences and those of others – including some famous friends and the children he teaches in an inner city London school. The serious subject is nevertheless punctuated by numerous amusing anecdotes and quips.
Using football as a metaphor for wider patriotism is a clever way to attempt to get to the root of the English psyche – a psyche that he admits attracts the loathing of many different countries, and even a form of self-hatred for those living within its own borders. Comparisons with US and Scottish nationalism sees the English fall short and, in football terms, become “90 minute patriots” where they are only a game away from throwing down their flags and damning the entire country. A memory of his first game at Wembley is shocking in its frank honesty – a scared eight-year-old sickeningly targeted by bigots but almost more concerned about a lost hotdog, such is his acceptance of racism as a common part of English life.
A series of interviews with celebrities, including actor Adrian Lester and comedians Richard Blackwood, Stephen K Amos, Shazia Mirza and Junior Simpson, back-up the comedian’s contention that, while there now seems to be little problem with the English football strip, the flag of St George still seems to hold violent connotations for segments of society – links with the BNP and other far-right groups still fresh in the memory.
In a video set-piece we see Paul Ricketts attempting to reclaim the flag by parading around different parts of London wearing a variety of English regalia during St George’s day, with mixed results. It’s a silly idea, but one which makes a good point in a humourous way. The younger generations, who point and laugh but never swear and shout, seem to have a far less involved, more positive and healthy relationship with nationality than their parents and grandparents. It is a heartening moment in a blackly-comic show which threatens to be overcome with hopelessness.
Paul Ricketts clearly has good intentions and is an engaging raconteur. But this cannot cover up the fact that he comes to no real conclusions. A closing segment which sees him dreaming up a series of ‘alternative national anthems’ typifies this and seems to have little substance other than getting cheap laughs. The show’s denouement, where the performer dons a DIY England football shirt, feels like it should be revelatory but feels like a case of style over substance.
Cast Credits (alpha order): Paul Ricketts.
Company Credits: Writer – Paul Ricketts.
(c) David Hepburn 2010
Reviewed Thursday 26 August