A devastatingly powerful story of a British-Caribbean family
Midway through the first act of 'Leave Taking', Enid (Sarah Niles) demands of her friend Broderick why he keeps filling her daughters’ heads with talk of Jamaica. England my home, she proudly declares.
Broderick, rollicking with sass and whiskey, replies that he’s thought of himself as a British subject all his life, but he’d received a letter that said if he didn’t get his nationality papers sorted out, they’d kick him out, ‘as if me live the last thirty years on the moon instead of this blasted estate’. He’s keeping his Jamaican passport up to date, ‘till they change them mind again’. Windrush, predicted 1987.
Lines delivered with prescience, with panache, with a biting, smartarse humour but also with bitter poignancy light up 'Leave Taking' like fireworks. Why Winsome Pinnock’s play isn’t on the English Literature syllabus alongside 'The Winslow Boy' (yawn) and 'An Inspector Calls' (yawn yawn) is a mystery to me, given its shocking contemporary relevance.
Enid is a grave, heartstrong woman torn between wanting a better future for her daughters and wanting them to grow up exactly as she dictates. Eighteen year old Del is the troublemaker; seventeen year old Viv is an A-grade student but dreams of reconnecting with her roots. With the help of savvy obeah woman Mai (a stellar Adjoa Andoh), the three women untangle the threads that have made them who they are, and who they will become. A seemingly simple story, a sparse set built of boxes, no flashy effects, no swelling soundscape – and yet this play warms and devastates. Two hours seems barely enough time to take it all in.
There are scenes that hum with tenderness and sharp clarity for the general immigrant experience – particularly the sense of being caught between two cultures and making mistakes in both – and moments that speak to the particular post-colonial Black Caribbean experience. But 'Leave Taking' also asks questions about how one transcends the boundaries set down by race, class and circumstance; how do you take your leave of the mundane? Del tries club music and dancing, Viv loses herself in books, Enid seeks the help of the church, Mai falls back on her psychic gift, and Broderick boozes. Whatever they choose, there is enormous humanity and power in their journey.
BY: KA BRADLEY