When Richard Bean began writing England People Very Nice, his play that opened at the National Theatre in February, did he worry about racism? It is a boisterous pageant of immigration and assimilation over four centuries in Bethnal Green. There are complex figures and human sympathy, but the play is awash with cartoonish stereotypes: randy French Huguenots, incestuous bog Irish, intolerant Muslim radicals, self-hating Hampstead liberals and thieving cockneys.
Some critics admired the play, others attacked it as crude. More than one complained that it went for big laughs on a subject—race—that demanded sober, probing realism. I, too, understand the…
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