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Theatre Review Echoes of Windrush scandal in brilliant immigrant drama

KATHERINE M GRAHAM sees the revival of a play about the Jamaican experience in Britain which is acutely contemporary

Leave Taking
Bush Theatre, London

WINSOME PINNOCK’S Leave Taking premiered in 1987 at the Liverpool Playhouse, but watching the Bush Theatre’s production some three decades later, there’s no sense that this is a historical piece. Rather, it’s horrifically contemporary.

Early on, we hear the suggestion that, as an immigrant, you’re only legally in England “till them change them mind again.” This produces an audible gasp from an audience keenly aware of the Windrush scandal and a government that is still, 31 years later, toying with the lives of immigrant families.

This is indeed a timely production by the Bush, following closely on the heels of Arinze Kene’s Misty. It continues that play’s powerful and intelligent interrogation of English culture’s failure to listen to, and to see, the struggles of people of colour.

Pinnock’s play follows Enid and her two children Del and Viv and also present are Mai, an obeah woman and Uncle Brod, a family friend.

Enid, Mai and Brod have all come to England from Jamaica — the “land of wood and water” — that Rosanna Vize’s set makes evocatively present. Each character navigates their different relationships with the traditions and realities of each country, while all also attempt to support Del and Viv to do the same.

What the play does so brilliantly is to depict the troubling range of ways that personal and institutional racism affects the lives of these characters. Del’s boss talks to her “as if I can’t speak English,” Viv studies diligently but “no matter how hard I search for myself in them books, I’m never there.”

Enid’s husband used to works at Smithfield meat market, where the other men would tell him to “show us yer tail, yer black monkey” and Mai won’t go to the doctor because “what a doctor know about a black woman soul?”

And what Madani Younis’s direction, and the performances also do so brilliantly, is to give space and time to the pain this causes and the anger that comes with it. Adjoa Andoh (Mai), Seraphina Beh (Del), Nicholle Cherrie (Viv) and Will Johnson (Brod) all give wonderfully complex and textured performances, but it’s Sarah Niles as Enid who really stands out.

Her ability to show us Enid’s diligent work, quiet suffering and love for her daughters is extraordinary and the moment when it becomes too much is heartbreaking.

Runs until June 30, box office: bushtheatre.co.uk

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