Testing The Echo

Written by David Edgar, directed by Matthew Dunster
Presented by Out Of Joint
Liverpool Playhouse (12th-16th February 2008)

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This one act plays spans 100 minutes but could have been condensed into an hour and still have effectively debated the question: what is Britishness?

To be honest, I find this query pretty boring. Why not ask what is it being an Indian, what is it being French, what is it being a Cuban...and so on. There are no easy answers to any of these questions, and it is the same regarding the question of being British.

What are the messages David Edgar, the play's author, trying to put across to the audience? Are we losing our sense of fair play; is there a danger that we are seeing an erosion of our basic civil liberties; we don't identify with the 'traditions' of Britain anymore, etc.

Sorry, I find these views short sighted and inane. Losing our sense of fair play? Maybe I am being slightly tongue in cheek but at least we have stopped deporting people to Australia for stealing a loaf of bread, or hanging people for stealing a sheep, or forcing young children to work in factories or down the mine.

What is Britishness in my view? I don't really know or even care.

The play is set on a multi-dimensional level with the actors constantly adopting different characters - which at times became quite confusing. Who is he or she now portraying?

Of the strands involved, be it the middle class people debating among themselves as to what is Sharia law (very topical at the moment!) or based in a factory canteen, or in a civil service office where the pen pushers are attempting to drum up more questions to include in the British citizenship test, which will be issued to people who want to become British, the most powerful strand was the confrontation between the teacher of a citizenship class and a Muslim student. The student strongly challenges the views of nationhood espoused by her teacher.

If you were wondering where the title of the play derives from, it alludes to bogus advice, which was included in a column printed in the New Statesman asking newcomers to Britain to visit the British Library so they could hear the echo in the renowned reading room of the British Library.

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