Life & Culture

August in England review: Fiery lament of a Windrush deportee

Lenny Henry excels in monologue featuring a 50-something grocer who arrived in England from Jamaica in 1962 but decades later is forced to leave


Lenny Henry in August In England by Lenny Henry @ Bush Theatre (Opening 04-05-2023) ©Tristram Kenton 05-23 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email:

August in England
Bush Theatre | ★★★★★

During his fallow years as a playwright Patrick Marber once said that the reason he hadn’t written any new plays was that his soul has to be burning before he can begin writing. Well, if ever a play came into being because a playwright’s soul was alight it is this monologue by Lenny Henry.

Fired up by the Windrush Scandal the comedian-turned-actor — and now accomplished playwright —plays August Henderson, a 50-something grocer who arrived in England from Jamaica on his mother’s passport in 1962 and has since lived a largely blameless life other than a much-regretted dalliance with another woman as his wife was dying of cancer.

But apart from that August’s story is one that many if not most people whose childhood was in the Sixties and Seventies will recognise: skinheads; ska and reggae on the radio; the thrum of racism at the local comprehensive, the Queen’s speech at Christmas, football and then in August’s case running a small business with a part share in a grocery shop.

Then comes marriage — to Clarice, his first love as a teenager — kids, grief, hope in the form of Vilma who raises August out of despair, followed by the prospect of marriage again, which is when, during the engagement party, August is arrested for deportation to Jamaica under Theresa May’s hostile environment policy.

Henry has played to his strengths by creating a character whose history is similar to his own but for the fact that Lenny was born in Dudley instead of arriving in the Black Country as a child like August.

There is also a good deal of comedy wrought from the detail of this unremarkable yet beautifully observed life.

Holding court in his living room dominated by a red, leather armchair and a drinking trolley from which the genial August begins the show by handing out shots of rum to the audience, the tale is punctuated in Daniel Bailey and Lynette Linton’s production by sudden grainy, black and white CCTV projections of a man sitting alone in a detention centre waiting to be deported to a country he barely remembers.

Eventually August’s story catches up with his future. There is no happy ending. Thereafter interviews with real-life elderly detainees scooped up by the policy give testimony to the humiliation and psychological cost of being singled as illegal. “It is as if I am a crime,” says one.

Henry deploys talents as both a comedian and an actor of considerable heft. His terrific August is funny, flawed and honourable. But the play is the thing. Few campaigning works impart the anger and sense of injustice felt by its playwright. But this one does. You leave fired up.

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