How Lenny Henry takes on the Windrush scandal with a shocking and funny one-man show: PATRICK MARMION reviews August in England
August In England (Bush Theatre, London)
There’s an old adage in storytelling that you should make ’em laugh, make ’em cry and make ’em wait.
That’s exactly what Lenny Henry does in his one-man show about the national disgrace that was the Windrush scandal.
I did wonder if he was a bit behind the curve on the Government’s forced expatriation policy. But I didn’t wonder for long.
His greatest achievement here is to put a human face on the statistics of British nationals threatened with deportation.
That face is fictional Jamaican immigrant August, who comes to the UK on his mother’s passport in 1962. He and Mum get off to a bad start . . . discovering Dad in a Peckham bedsit with an all-too-obliging redhead.
There is plenty of prime Lenny Henry comedy: warm impersonations, great gags and self-effacing humour
Mum’s answer is to drag Dad to West Bromwich. There, after dallying with a militant reggae band called Black Fist at school in the 1970s, August sets up a fruit and veg business before marrying love of his life Wilma. But then, after their kids grow up, life starts to unravel — first when Wilma gets ill, and then when Theresa May’s Home Office moves to make Britain a ‘hostile environment for immigrants’, using the faceless corporation Capita to do her dirty work.
Anyone unable to prove they had Leave To Remain on their passports was told they would be deported — in some cases half a century or more after their arrival.
Before we get to that, though, there is plenty of prime Lenny Henry comedy: warm impersonations, great gags and self-effacing humour. One character is memorably described as being as ‘miserable as Nigel Farage at the Notting Hill Carnival’.
His greatest achievement here is to put a human face on the statistics of British nationals threatened with deportation
Sending up Jamaican and British manners equally, Henry is quick to signal when to laugh with a flutter of his eyelids. And even at 64, he can still pull the moves: whether that’s saucy butterfly dancing or raunchy twerking. Yet he’s also a gorgeously ordinary West Midlander in his suit, tie and flat cap.
Most cunningly, by luring us into August’s everyday life of cheer and tribulation — presenting his story as proud British social history — it makes the shock when he is abruptly robbed of his national identity even greater.
It would take a hard heart to keep a dry eye in the closing videos of three people turned on so suddenly by their home country.
First funny, then shocking, it’s very much worth the wait.
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