Is it OK to say women are bad drivers? To call someone a chav? What about a mong? Or a gollywog? Two-time Fringe First winner Paul Charlton plunges into the murky waters of prejudice dressed up as banter in this sharp comedy that effectively argues against casual discrimination by being funnier than anyone likely to support it. In highlighting the hypocrisies and frustrations of a group of Newcastle teenagers, stuffed into the back of a van as they move house, it asks us to consider what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
Thrown together by their parents’ new relationship, they are forced to address their beliefs about race, sex, class and each other. Privately educated, self-described intellectual Kieran thinks his family are too good for Carl and Lauri, whose previous residence was on a council estate. Kieran’s sister Stef is keen for everyone to get on, but concerned their new house won’t be as big as their old one.
As a Facebook fan of the English Defence League, and determined to point out that “they aren’t racist”, Kieran is a disaffected but politically engaged young man who – unlike the rest of the gang – is interested in more than Geordie Shore. The downside is, he has some suspect views as a result. When his “just my opinions” are turned on Lauri, who is mixed-race, the relationships in the group – played with warmth and honesty – get increasingly strained.
“You can’t say anything these days,” Kieran complains, as he tries to turn everything into a joke, in the way people with deep-rooted hatred do to make it seem more palatable. But Kieran isn’t a hateful figure; he’s witty and charismatic and a kid. Charlton’s smart, rich and colloquial writing is critical not of him but the bigotry being passed on to impressionable young people and which, in certain areas of the country, they are embracing. However, it’s not a piece without hope – as we see when the van doors are finally opened to reveal what’s outside.
Written for The Scotsman