Theatre: On Britishness

January 13, 2024
2 mins read

By Belinda Otas
Wednesday, April 16, 2008.
4 stars
Topical and timely, Testing The Echo is the long awaited response from British theatre to help define Britishness. Is it true that ‘being able to see the other point of view is what being British is about?’ Better still, why do people decide to become British?
The production is about citizenship. In particular, it follows a diverse group of immigrants from Serbia, Pakistan, Somalia and other countries who are taking the required course to become officially recognised as British citizens.
Mahmood is a young Pakistani migrant who wants British citizenship so his father will be pleased with him. Tetyana wants to escape an abusive marriage and Chong wants to be able to travel, so he can see his family again. They all have their different reasons for wanting the red passport but are they willing to live by the values of the country they crave to be part of?
This soon becomes the focus of the play as Emma (Teresa Banham) an ESOL (English For Other Speakers of Other languages) teacher is embroiled in a classroom confrontation with Nasim.
Nasim, from Egypt, feels she is being made to learn things which are in direct contradiction to her Islamic belief when the class is made to learn about what constitutes an English breakfast; the notion of learning all about pork doesn’t go down too well with her.
Going through an ESOL class is one thing but taking the citizenship test and crossing the final hurdle of swearing allegiance to the Her Majesty, the Queen, brings up an entirely different set of questions.
A number of issues jump at you; national identity, a sense of place and belonging, and without a shadow of doubt, the differences between British values and other cultural values.
Is “Britishness” incompatible with radical Islam? Are we sleepwalking into segregation? Does the very concept of multiculturalism preclude the possibility of a shared identity?
The play has its finger on the zeitgeist. Forty years after Enoch Powell’s notorious “rivers of blood” speech, immigration is once again becoming a hot political potato, and our Scottish Prime Minister keeps banging on about British values and “British jobs for British people.”
Written by David Edgar and directed by Matthew Dunster, Testing The Echo is intelligently written and thought-provoking. Its strength lies in its ability to capture the mood of different opinions which exists in a fragmented society.
This is certainly a brilliant production, which speaks volumes about the state of our communities and society, and how it is tied together by the thread of identity which transcends the boundaries of race.
Image: John Haynes
Testing The Echo is showing at the Tricycle Theatre until 3 May 2008.
Tel: 020 7328 1000
For more information, visit: and
© 2008
Belinda Otas is a London-based freelance journalist and The New Black Magazine’s features and theatre editor. She can be reached at
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