What does it mean to be British? Is it a flag? A shared heritage? A state of mind? Third generation Indian immigrant Rahul, the narrator of Vinay Patel’s monologue, feels British through and through. He doesn’t want to be reminded of the traditions of his parents or grandparents or to feel different from anyone else when he walks down the street. He just wants to wave a Union Jack and sing along to “Jerusalem”.
Patel’s debut play resides somewhere in the rift between self-identity and the identity that others impose. Framed by the 7/7 bombings and the London Olympics in 2012, it interrogates Britishness from the perspective of those forced to fight for it rather than those born effortlessly into it. When suspicion suddenly erupts within communities, it quickly becomes clear how complex and murky the idea of nationality and belonging really is.
For Rahul, a teenager busy finishing school and falling in love, the turning point arrives on 7th July 2005, while he sleeps off a hangover on holiday in Spain. When he returns to London, the city he calls his own, he suddenly finds himself a stranger. Patel’s monologue resists dominant media narratives, however, by depicting a turn not to extremism but to a desperate reaffirming of British identity.
Through this one individual, speaking from two distinct points in the recent past, Patel addresses a whole clutch of issues around identity, nationality and heritage. Rahul embodies a painful contradiction, struggling to reconcile his British and Asian identities at the same time as working out how to become an adult in a hostile world. More than anything, he wishes he could just “reset”, start over as simply British and nothing else.
The writing is ambitious in its scope but occasionally lacks clarity, as does Sid Sagar’s delivery of it. Despite some standout moments – a music analogy which likens each of the main three political parties to a Britpop band is a particular highlight – these have yet to fully knit together. It is vital to be questioning the notion of Britishness, particularly following the coalition government’s re-enshrining of supposed “British values”, but True Brits does not quite close its fingers around the ideas it is reaching for.