August in England, Bush Theatre, 2023
Photo: Tristram KentonLenny Henry
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


August in England

4 out of 5 stars

Beguiling playwrighting debut from Lenny Henry, utterly winning as an affable Caribbean-born fruitseller ensnared by the Windrush scandal


Time Out says

Nope, this play has nothing to do with the barbeques, wasps and ice cream van chimes that fill England in peak summer. Instead Sir Lenny Henry’s sunny but ultimately devastating first play centres on a man named August, who’s as much a part of the nation’s furniture as any calendar month.

Alone on stage, he spends most of his time lovingly conjuring the hubbub of ordinary life for this Caribbean-born, firmly British man, before building his story to a formidable critique of the way the Windrush generation has been betrayed.

Henry really knows how to captivate an audience, leading us along with him like we're eager dogs on strings as he takes us on an amble through August's formative years. He comes to the UK aged eight, shining with hope and judiciously-applied Vaseline as he contemplates his future. There are shocks along the way: the racism of his classmates, the realisation that he'll never make it as a Black Country Bob Marley. But Henry’s approach favours sunshine over storms, lighting up every corner of the theatre with his serotonin-boostingly warm charisma as he narrates August's life co-owning a fruit and veg shop with his mate Iqbal, and bringing up three kids.

Ignore the silvery beard, this 64-year-old bursts with energy, whether he's bopping across the stage or tenderly slow-dancing with a concrete pillar.

Henry's so good at joy but perhaps there could be more moody introspection here. We discover August and his dad were both unfaithful with red-haired women, but the psychology of why that pattern repeats is left as a blur. Perhaps August is just repressing his feelings – just as he ignores the Capita letters that pile up on his doormat, raising questions about his citizenship that he's too overwhelmed too fully confront. The bulk of this story's essential affability and gentleness sets a bit of a challenge for co-directors Lynette Linton and Daniel Bailey, who opt to foreshadow its grim ending with brief flashes of grey-hued projection.

At last, things build to a brutal climax that makes haunting use of Janet Kay's song ‘Silly Games’ (with echoes of Steve McQueen’s ‘Lovers Rock’, which deployed the same track's shiver-inducing high notes so brilliantly) as well as documentary footage that turns August's lone howl of pain into a chorus.

‘August in England’ is both a seriously impressive writing debut, and a considerable creative statement of intent from a household-name comedian who could have easily packed out a West End barn with an hour of affable reminisces. Let's hope it’s the start of a fruitful new season in Henry’s career.


£30-£35. Runs 1hr 30min
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