August in England - Bush Theatre
Lenny Henry makes his playwriting debut
The warmth that resonates from Lenny Henry as he enters the space is unparalleled, perfectly juxtaposed against the cruel cold of the tragedy that unfurls before us. Examining the effect of the Windrush Scandal, Henry, imbued with his candid stand-up style, adds detailed context and character to portray the devastating impact it had on those affected, daring us to recognise the systematic faults and wrongs that caused it. This is a profound theatre with an urgent message.
Instead of immediately diving into the scandal itself Henry spends the time building the story of his character August - it's barely even hinted at for the first two-thirds of the piece. This choice humanises the headlines and statistics that most will already be familiar with, equally setting us up for deeper devastation when the rug is (literally) pulled from under August’s feet. August is likeable and flawed, telling of his journey to the UK aged eight. Henry’s method of storytelling is collective, welcoming and witty as we see August building a life for himself and his family, consistently striving to do good by them despite his inherited faults. Life is cruel but with the support of those around him, he weathers the storms until the letters fall from the ceiling like a grotesque version of Harry Potter receiving his letter for Hogwarts. Letters that tell August he must prove his identity as a British citizen despite having lived in the country for more than fifty years.
The detention is teased from the beginning of the piece but that does not make it any easier to palate when it arrives. The worn, cushy armchair and family pictures are removed, the space void of humanity as CCTV cameras peer down on August as he desperately asks whether people can see him. The production concludes by sharing a video of some of those most affected by the heinous events which, now that we are armed with the context, is mighty and devastating to hear. In this moment it all becomes real.
There is scope for improving a few tiny elements of the delivery, script and play further but it succeeds in representing those that faced the brutality of the conservative’s hostile environment policies. Leaving the theatre I felt anger at the absolute injustice, now further educated on a topic I had heard about but not delved deeper into. This demands to be seen by audiences, particularly lawmakers who need educating to ensure the failures are not repeated. Accessible and necessary theatre.
Running until 10 June - Tickets
Photography - Tristram Kenton