Edinburgh Festival: League of St George (4 stars)

“England belongs to me,” you’ll be singing as you leave the theatre, following this blast of a show with it’s in yer face punk band, and feeling somewhat uncomfortable as you skip off down the street. Capturing both the thrill of the 1970s music scene and the camaraderie of a group of working-class Dagenham lads, it gives racism a human face and asks you to look it in the eye.

It’s an unsettling experience, made more so by the fact 22-year-old skinhead Adam is a likeable guy and even if his friends aren’t, they’re charismatic and full of youthful energy. They are the kind of people you don’t mind spending the duration of a play with – but they’re also violent racists.

What Adam’s mates don’t realise about him is he is gay and, when he starts to fall in love, his dual lives inevitably collide, forcing him to decide exactly where his allegiances lie. But this is as much a piece about belonging as it is about prejudice; the appeal of being part of a group and fitting in.

It’s about punk, its energy and defiance – something that doesn’t really exist anymore and, where it does, has been watered down and absorbed into mainstream culture. And it’s also about being an East Londoner, shotgun weddings to the girl from the chippy, living with your mum and banter with friends down the pub.

Georgia Bliss’s script is full of vitality and life and gets right to the heart of the period, its attitudes and people. It is rich with detail and the combination of this with live music and gripping performances from the cast is a potent one.

The characters’ misdirected anger is what makes them feel alive but also destroys them and, in Adam’s case, his relationship.

While the group’s behaviour is hateful, there is something undeniably invigorating about the way they express their frustration not through eloquent words but through shouted-out songs. When the band gives us two fingers at the end and tells us to “f*** off and go home”, it’s not offensive, it’s exhilarating.

Written for The Scotsman

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