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Energetic and Fascinating Revival

Oi for England
Not Too Tame Theatre Company with RWCMD,
Venue 13, Edinburgh Fringe
August 19 - 29, 2010

“Right, f--- it!” Trevor Griffiths' opening line sets the tone for his punchy 1982 one-act play. Skinhead band “Ammunition” has been offered an election night gig for the fine sum of £30. For the four of them, “doleboys “ all, the sum is a fortune. The drama picks at the splits between the band members over what is intended to be a massive Nazi event.

Outside on the Manchester streets gangs of Asians are out for blood in response to an assault on one of their own. As it unwinds Trevor Griffiths’ structure is a writing master class in compression and texture, rounded off with a brilliant and unexpected twist.

“We're for our own kind” may be the motif but the politics of identity are always fissiparous. Just like this month’s falling out within the BNP the band is split by the fact of one of them, Finn, being a mick. Left on his own his relationship with landlord’s daughter Gloria (Jess Hayles) is warm. As shaven-headed and monkey-booted as the others, he has access to a deeper narrative, both musical and historical. He sings to himself the lilting “Raglan Road” (“let grief be a fallen leaf/ at the dawning of the day.”)

Like Eddie Waters, the stand-up veteran in “Comedians”, Finn's grandfather has been present at a concentration camp liberation. Finn knows that Nazi lies are just that. When Griffiths’ climax comes it is cunningly all the more surprising and milked for all its energy by Stephen Bisland.

Anthony Wright Wilson’s character is known only as the Man. Almost lugubrious in his attitude to the band at first he mutates into a maelstrom of menace. His searing speech of loathing of “chocolate England” is without equal.

The text has an occasional reference which is now most likely lost. “Anderton's puffballs” probably does not mean a lot now. (On a personal note I had an encounter once with a couple of them and did not care for it much.) But the play fascinates in depicting just how much has changed in a generation.

The band’s anthem is “Sod the law and pass the ammunition”, or maybe “sod the Lord”. Jack Brown’s Swells drives it on drums and Lewis Reeves' Napper gives it great gritty vocals.

Oi for England is not to going to play a major venue again. Scan the impossibly vast list of Fringe productions and political theatre seems thin to invisible; all credit to Jimmy Fairhurst, assistant director Hannah Jarman, and the company for getting it out and up from Cardiff to Edinburgh.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset in Theatre in Wales, 19th August, 2010.

This show runs until 29th August 2010, at Venue 13 in Edinburgh. For more details and to book tickets visit The Edinburgh Festival Guide.

The script of Oi for England appears in Theatre Plays Two published by Spokesman Books


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