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Posts Tagged ‘Winsome Pinnock’

I love plays which make connections between people, periods, places and events to present a bigger picture. Winsome Pinnock’s new play places Turner’s painting ‘Slaver’s Throwing Overboard the Dead & Dying – Typhoon Coming On’, more commonly known as ‘The Slave Ship’, at the centre, from which we move back and forth unravelling the connections.

We see black school-kids and their teacher studying the painting in a gallery and an actress researching and filming something inspired by the painting, to the period and events it depicts. Characters like a schoolboy and the actress are deeply affected by what they have viewed. The play’s key point, the impact of these historical events on descendants living today, is made explicitly clear at the end.

Pulling off such an audacious piece of theatre requires clarity in the staging, but I didn’t feel that was the case here. I’m afraid I thought Miranda Cromwell’s production was more confusing than clear, and difficult scenes like a historical ballroom dance and dancing at a contemporary party happening simultaneously don’t get the deft staging they need to work.

Most of the talented cast play two or more roles, which works perfectly well. On the night I went, Paul Bradley was indisposed and Lloyd Hutchinson (not an understudy) played the roles of Turner / Roy, script in hand, remarkably well. The staging in-the-round facilitated speedy changes of scene, with some remarkably speedy changes in costume!

I thought it was well written, making an interesting point that people like me may not have hitherto understood and may need to hear, but its impact was marred by the production, which may have benefitted from a more experienced director.

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Thirty years on from its London premiere at the National (the first play by a black woman there, in 1988!) this comes over as a vital play for our time, exploring the immigrant experience of the generation that came here and the one that followed, born here.

Enid is part of the Windrush generation, her daughters Del, the elder rebellious one, and Viv, a good girl, both born here. Enid’s a single mum, having left her abusive husband. She holds down two jobs in order to keep her family, her attitudes are ‘old school’, thankful and respectful. ‘Uncle’ Brod, who isn’t, pops in regularly. They visit an ‘obeah’ woman Mai, a Caribbean healer who reads palms & cards and gives baths & potions. Enid is convinced, Del a disbeliever and Viv interested but uncommitted. When Enid’s mum dies, she’s full of guilt and yearns to go home. Del gets pregnant and leaves home, lodging with Mai, who passes on her knowledge and skills to her. Viv want to take a gap year to discover her roots in the Caribbean. Brod just wants another bottle of rum.

The older generation are torn between their adopted home and their homeland, deeply hurt by the racism they’ve encountered, hanging on to their heritage and culture. The next generation feel differently, Del seeing no connection with her heritage and Viv wanting to explore it. The play also examines the relationships between Enid and her daughters and between the sisters. Some things are unexplained – why Del goes to Mai’s, how Viv gets to Uni after walking out of her first exam and what exactly is Brod’s relationship with Enid. The older characters are heavily accented and you do have to work at taking it all in. That said, I found it an enthralling play, often very funny and often deeply moving.

Sarah Niles is wonderful as a very dignified Enid, who’s learnt how to cope alone. Seraphina Beh brings an unpredictability and brittleness to angry, passionate Del and Nichole Cherrie a caring loyalty to her younger sister Viv. Adjoa Andoh has great presence as Mai, who’s got her own story as well as a place in theirs. Wil Johnson is more than a comic character, but he does excel at the very physical comedy of larger-than-life Brod.

Nine Night, recently at the Dorfman, also written by a black woman, covered similar ground, and I suspect owes a debt to this earlier play. At both productions, there were many of shared heritage to whom it seemed to mean more than it did to me, but Madani Younis’ production is still as fine an evening of drama as you could wish for. Not to be missed.

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