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Nicola Mostyn on a play about racism, community and the Waltzers by Manchester Company Fink On

Published on October 12th 2007.


When Melanie gets stuck next to Railton on a ride at a funfair, they seem an unlikely pairing.

He’s a sportswear-clad local lad with an accent and a swagger. She’s a pretty, university-educated girl who has only returned to her northern home town because she was dumped by her boyfriend whilst travelling in Thailand. Bonded by their love of the fairground (him because his late father used to run it, she because it’s the only place where nobody knows her from school) they ride the Waltzers, get stoned and spend the night together.

Whilst it would be easy to slap Railton with a racist tag (you’d surely find no dissenters in the Contact’s audience) this production demands you look a little deeper

When Railton turns up at a Community meeting Melanie is chairing at the local college, and it turns out he’s a student there, it seems the two might even get it together, until Railton has his say about the plans for the multicultural fair scheduled to take place a year after the race riots. He shows his true colours: the red white and blue of the BNP…

The writer of Fair, Joy Wikinson, hails from Burnley which explains the origins of this probing, intelligent look at the causes of racism in multicultural communities. Directed by actor Neil Bell (Dead Man’s Shoes), Fair is a compelling piece of theatre. Whilst the subject matter is serious, it is explored with a deft touch. Snappy, funny dialogue is matched by fast-changing scenes, each with a strong, visual impact creating a memorable tableau, beginning with the opening sequence in which Melanie and Railton are stuck upside down on the Revolution in the dark, their faces lit up intermittently by the flashing fun-fair lights.

Whilst it is a little bit of a stretch to believe that Melanie and Railton would bond quite so strongly in the beginning, their connection makes more sense as the play develops and this fleeting initial attraction provides the play’s lynchpin – a collision of cultures which allows an exploration of the space between.

Fair is a three hander, the third character being the ghost of Railton’s Dad, George Hills, who is played with a winning mix of the comical and the sinister by Steven Hillman. Nick Mason is compelling as the young man with so many different sides; the cheeky potential boyfriend, the vulnerable son, the angry, bitter man; whilst Clare Disley is very likeable as the graduate whose upbringing and fair-mindedness, which cause her disgust at Railton’s political beliefs, also mean that she wants to understand his skewed motivations.

The play is presented by Fink On Theatre Company, a Manchester-based group formed in 1999 to bring together local writing, acting and directing talent, with co-founder Chris Coghill going on to star as Sean Rider in 24 Hour Party People. Their aim, it seems is to bring theatre to a non traditional audience. Judging by their choice of writing (they also produced Crying In The Chapel, about the Strangeways riots, several years ago) they also target issues on which their shared locality enables them a distinctive perspective.

And so it is with Fair. Whilst it would be easy to slap Railton with a racist tag (you’d surely find no dissenters in the Contact’s audience) this production demands you look a little deeper. It highlights not only the conditions which can nurture prejudice in a person, but also vesting its eye on the comfortable rich, free to hold forth about multi-racial communities when they never have to live in that world.

And the fairground is the perfect backdrop against which to explore all this – an effective symbol of community life as it is now and nostalgia for time past, with its tinny pop tunes, its blinking lights, its goldfish which are sweets rather than the real ones in cruel plastic bags.

“We need to go back to what we know, not forward into God knows what future,” says Railton at one point, in a play which suggests many interesting, clear-eyed reasons why the present looks like it does.

Fair, Contact Theatre, Until Saturday 13 October 7.30pm, plus Mat Sat 13 Oct 1.30pm. £10/6

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