Richard Bean's England People Very Nice: Critical Thinking Questions & AnswersCompiled and Prepared by Mohamed Zayed, MA, Linguist and Legal Translator
1) Discuss the theme of multiculturalism in Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice.
Discuss how Richard Bean tackled the theme of immigration and multiculturalism in the four acts of England People Very Nice, especially how he deals with Muslims.
First of all, multiculturalism refers to the multiplicity of nationalities in one single place and the fragmented depiction of the different ethnical groups. It can be explained as a representation of the separate yet parallel existence of the immigrants on the one hand and the native people on the other hand. The theme of multiculturalism is closely related to the theme of immigration since there would be no multiculturalism without immigration.
Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice is a play-within-a-play that revolves around a group of actors at an asylum centre while waiting for their envelopes of entry. They are making a play about immigration in Britain and how Britain has always been a centre for asylum and immigration. The play discusses England’s history of immigration from the 17th century till present day. The characters of the play belong to different ethnic groups: French, Irish, English, Jewish and Bangladeshi characters. The presentation of multiple nationalities greatly serves the theme of multiculturalism. One of the most significant aspects of multiculturalism that is found in the play is that the old immigrants show dislike for the new wave of immigrants.
The immigrant characters deserted their countries for many reasons that include religious intolerance (Protestant vs. Catholic), lack of freedom of speech among other reasons. In this world of multiple nationalities, the pub is the fixed centre where different nationalities meet in a quickly-changing world. Bethnal Green is the place of the arrival of the immigrant. At its core, the play is a call for positive multiculturalism and productive co-existence. In fact, Bean used the theme of love as a tool for reflecting multiculturalism. It is found that in England People Very Nice, the lovers belong to different ethnic groups. For example, in the first act, there is a love relationship between Danny who is an Englishman and Camille who is a French woman. Also, in Act 4, there is a love affair between Deborah, who is an English-Jewish woman, and Mushi who is a Muslim Bangladeshi. That’s to say, the writer is trying to direct a message that the problems of multiculturalism such as racism and segregation can be overcome through love and intermarriage.
Also, Englishness is a theme that is closely related to multiculturalism. English characters are portrayed as simple people, which is connected to the English way of living. Ida is a recurrent character in all acts and is the representatives of Englishness in the play. Ida is stereotypical Cockney female who works as a barmaid. Ida is a perfect example on multiculturalism in the play. Ida’s parents were Irish Catholics and her husband was Jewish while she, herself, was a Protestant Cockney whose daughter Deborah had a relationship with a Bangladeshi man named Mushi. Also, cultural diversity and even conflict are clearly reflected in the play. In act 4, it is a found that there is a clash of cultures between Muslim culture and British culture through the conversation between St John, an educated English man, and Rayhana, a half-Bangladeshi Muslim young woman who works at a nursery. The quotation reflects how Islam is often misunderstood by a great number of British people who confuse Muslim with fanatics especially after 9/11:
The girls in this nursery wear headscarves. Is it normal for a British five-year-old never to feel the sun on the back of her neck? You refused to shake my hand. Is that ‘normal’ behaviour for a grown up?
Another significant quotation that clearly expresses the conflict and dislike among immigrants themselves is the following:
You can’t give our houses away to Africans! I love this country! What gives you the right to ruin my bloody country!
Mushi was once a Bangladeshi refugee who sought asylum in Britain and was barely rescued by a British officer at the docks. Now, he is against the African refugees who escaped Somali because of civil war. That is to say, one of the major problems of multiculturalism is ethnic conflicts not only between the natives on the one hand and the immigrants on the other hand but also among and within the immigrants themselves. It is as if when an immigrant of a certain ethnic group climbs the ladder and gains asylum he wishes that that ladder would be pulled up after him.
As for the analysis of multiculturalism in each act, it is found that in Act 1—which takes place in the 17th century—there is a wave of French Protestant immigrants escaping Catholic France to practice their religion freely in Protestant England. It can be noticed that the French refugees are not welcome by the ordinary English people and are referred to as “cabbage eaters” and “red meat” eaters who care very much about love and sex. Finally, the French find England a lovely place to stay in and they call it their “sweetheart”. In act 2, there is a new wave of Irish immigrants who are being stereotyped by the English people as strange people who always have a pig. Such joke is very offensive to the Irish. The writer uses this black humour to represent the conflicts within multiculturalism and some of its problems. In the act, an Irishman thinks that the word “Pope” refers to a kind of a horse! There is a clear racist attitude as stated by the notice on the window of the pub in Act 2: “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”. There is also a religious, cultural confrontation between the Protestant English people and the Catholic Irish people. As for Act 3, the new wave of immigrants is introduced. The Jews have come to England seeking refugee from Russia and Poland. This Jewish wave of immigrant was called “an invasion” and “swarming . . . the most unwelcome news” by the British natives. There is a cultural interaction between the immigrant Jews and the native English in which Judaism rituals are being mocked by the English, e.g. not eating bacon. Also, the stereotypical image of a Jew is represented. A Jew is represented as someone who “never heard of soup and water” and that they only think about money and interests. Yet, there is one recurring quotation that is repeated throughout the play that is “It’s [England] a free country” which provide somewhat a solution for the problems of multiculturalism.
As for Act 4 which is called the Bangladeshi Act, it starts with the rescue of a Bangladeshi young man named Mushi on the hands of an officer. In fact, the title of the play “England People Very Nice” were the words spoken by Mushi when he was rescued by the English officer who called him “son”. It is an attempt made by the writer in which he is trying to say that not all English people are bad or racist but in every community there is good and bad. Mushi claims that he only came to England to find half-Christian, half-Jewish girl to marry and have twins. In this way, he believes that he will bring the whole world to God because in this case he will be a Muslim who married a girl who is Christian with Jewish roots. This is an imaginary world of multiculturalism, intermarriage and co-existence. Mushi then finds his girl, Deborah, and they have a love affair. It is through Mushi, once an immigrant, that we can see how immigration changes people. Later on his life, he says about his own people while advising one of his fellow countrymen to marry a British woman:
MUSHI: What will Indian country girl do here? Sit indoors all day, crying!
Also, the place of the church which was turned into a Jewish temple which was later turned into a mosque is a good example on multiculturalism and the dominance of some ethnic groups over different periods of time: It was Protestant French in Act 1 then Jewish in Act 3 then a mosque in Act 4.
In conclusion, the theme of multiculturalism along with immigration is the dominant theme in the play since it represents different ethnic groups living in one community wherein there are different ideological orientations as well as different cultures. The writer suggests that love can be a solution to the problems of multiculturalism. Finally, Bean received significant criticism for his depiction of multiculturalism and ethnic groups. His play was considered “racist” by many critics for its depiction and representation of the sensitive issue of multiculturalism —and racism—in England.
How did Richard Bean manage to link (or connect) the four acts? Illustrate with reference to the technical devices lying therein.
England People Very Nice is a play that includes four acts whose actions are related and linked through the employment of a number of technical devices. It is a play-within-a-play about the history of immigration in England with a series of acts that introduces new scene and waves of immigrants from the 17th century till present day in a historical framework.
First of all, it is noticed that Bean has established a temporal or time relations between the acts through the historical background. For example, in Act 1 the events take place in the 17th century England when there was a war between Catholic France and Protestant England wherein Act 2 it follows the Irish immigration to England and Irish famine then in Act 3 it is the year 1888 and the Jewish refugees “invasion”. Then finally, it is the period of the Second World War and present day that is traced in Act 4. This historical background or reference to history helps the reader trace the history of immigration in England and more importantly it establishes a connection between acts by linking the events of each act to the previous one as well as the following one. Hence, the reference to the English Civil War then the Irish Famine then the Jewish Immigration then Hitler’s defeat then the reference to 9/11 terrorist attack then the age of Facebook are all historical references that are introduced to the reader to prevent confusion and to relate to the past events.
Also, another significant tool or technical device that the writer used to link the acts is the employment of recurring characters especially Ida, Rennie, Benny and Hugo. Ida is the most recurring character in the play. She is a representative of Englishness in the play. She plays the role of a link between the four acts since she is a static character who is always “swearing” and using the most recurring quotation “whatsaname” in most of her contributions when she cannot find the right word to express her thoughts. She is a Cockney barmaid who is always in the pub mocking immigrants and calling them names using very offensive language. She is found in every act.
As for Rennie, he is a pub regular and a commentator on the events in all four acts. He is the linguistic helper of Ida in most of her interactions with others and with him too. Whenever Ida cannot find the right word to express her thoughts, Rennie would interfere helping her speak a full thought. As for Benny and Hugo, they are the mouthpieces of the Devil. They are the English evil-doers. They represent fanaticism, evil, murder and bloodshed in the play. There is a clear example on the bloodthirsty nature of Hugo in Act 2 wherein he wants to kill an Irish new-born not for anything but for being born with one eye and he calls him a “monster”. He is a murderer, too, who killed at least two men in the play: Carlo who was an Italian Catholic priest in Act 2 and the Muslim Shah Abdul in Act 4. That’s to say, all of the above recurring characters that are found in all four acts establish a link and connection between the four acts. They are static characters that guide the readers through the events of what has been narrated and what is yet to come.
The third technical device that Bean used to link the acts together is the employment of love stories: all in all we have four love stories with different ends. For example, in Act 1 there is a love story between a French Protestant young woman, Camille, and an English atheist young man, Danny. The story ends tragically when Danny kills a man who was trying to attack Camille and is sentenced to death. In Act 2, there is another love story between Mary, an Irish pregnant young woman, and an Italian priest, Carlo. The story, too, ends tragically when Carlo is killed on the hands of the villain Hugo. The third love story takes place in Act three between an English young woman, Ruth, of a rich family and a Jewish poor young man, Aaron. The end of the relationship is open-ended since Ruth is looking for Aaron. There is a fourth love story in Act four between a Muslim Bangladeshi young man named Mushi and an English young woman named Deborah. Their relationship has a happy ending since they involve in a long-term love affair which produces twins. Yet, they had some problems settling down but they moved to another district. This chain of love stories in the four acts represents a connection and link between the acts. The writer believes that love is the ultimate solution of the issues of multiculturalism, race and hatred. It was said that “the truest measure of racial and cultural integration in any society is the rate of intermarriage.”
The fourth technical device which Bean used to establish a link between the four acts is the usage of detailed, sophisticated stage directions. It is through stage directions that the reader is able to understand the feelings of the characters, the time of the action, the setting or the place of the action and the general atmosphere of the scene itself. In this case, we find that stage directions in England People Very Nice is very helpful and significant part of the play since stage directions tell the reader the exact time of the play and provide a justification for the rapidity of the action. For example, in Act 1 and 2 the reader finds himself in the 17th century witnessing the Catholic-Protestant conflict then all of a sudden he finds himself witnessing the Jewish Immigration in Act three and all of sudden he finds himself in the Second World War and Hitler’s defeat! Without the necessary stage directions which state the exact time and history of the action, there would be a lot of confusion and fragmentation in the play which will make it very hard and challenging to read. Hence, stage directions provide a tool for tracing and linking the events and actions of the four acts.
What are some of the characteristics of postmodernism in the play?
1) Breaking away from the three traditional unities of time, place and action since the play, on the whole, covers main historical periods of England from ancient times of late Middle Ages all through modern-day England;
2) Diversity of the elements constituting the plot line: each act deals with different period of British History and thus the playwright employed different temporal periods to reiterate the same plot line and sequence of events leading to modern-day England;
3) Topic of antisemitism: Antisemitism theme is related largely to postmodern literature since such conception appeared and emerged following WW2 and the defeat of Hitler who is portrayed in history as the forefather of antisemitism against Jews;
4) Langue and style: the langue of the play is smooth and easy to understand which is yet another feature of post-modernism and the style of the writer is characterized by a high note of satire (dark humor) since it is England--the oldest democracy in the whole word--which is still suffering from racism against its different ethic groups;
5) Social Setting of the Play: The play includes different ethnic groups: blacks, Muslims, Britons, Indians, Asians, French, etc.and various religious backgrounds as well such as Catholics, Jews and Protestants, all of which are aspects of modern-day England, such diversity which was rarely found in the ancient British Kingdom.
6) Feminism and Women's Role: the play further discusses the marginalization of the role of women who live in a patriarchal society which is yet another aspect and characteristic of postmodern literature which discusses the theme of feminism.
Best of luck!
Thursday, May 10, 2018 5:41 a.m.