Review: August in England (Bush Theatre)

August Henderson has been resident in England for over fifty years, having come from Jamaica on his mother’s passport in the 1960s, “when you could go anywhere in the Empire”.

In Lenny Henry’s clever 90-minute dramedy, his debut play in which he also performs, we follow August through his life as he juggles growing up in the Midlands with his heritage.

While quick projections now and then of a detention centre room keep us focused on the Windrush scandal and what is to come, Henry’s writing and personality keeps the audience entertained with constant breaks in the fourth wall, twerking, reacting to call outs, keeping us engaged.

Production photo for August in England

There’s a lot to process: a youthful band called ‘Black Fist’; a school photo on the sidelines; a fixation with redheaded, light-skinned, freckled women; pride in a family of three children who all have their own stories; a thriving fruit and veg business.

August may drink tots of rum and proudly display the Jamaican flag, but he works and contributes to the British system and benefits, too, as his partner Clarice ails, and he needs emergency dental work.

Physically, this is a towering performance. Henry, the comic transforms into a man who visibly shrinks, declines, and ages as circumstances conspire against him. Government letters float and fall, each becoming more threatening.

Production photo for August in England

An armchair where August confidently perches becomes large and oppressive; a telephone which once held flirty texts becomes an instrument of fear; lighting (by Jai Morjaria), which was warm and playful becomes harsh.

The set (by Natalie Pryce) starts to diminish before a shocking denouement fades into real-life testimony from Windrush veterans – this is not just one man’s story, after all, but the story of many.

August in England is very funny and very touching. The cruel policy of harassing and excluding those who were invited into our country because of paperwork anomalies makes a mockery of the welcome extended after the war.

Production photo for August in England

It was great to see audience reactions, too, with whoops and cheers, gasps, and reactions. This is just the kind of theatre we celebrate in our more intimate spaces like the Bush, and this play allows us to relax while being blindsided by a valuable lesson at the end.

Co-directed by Daniel Bailey and Lynette Linton, August in England places Henry as not just a gifted serious actor but a promising playwright who has a way with words crafted from years on the comedy circuit enhanced with real tenderness and feeling.

August in England is running at the Bush Theatre until 10 Jun: tickets here.


Image credit: Tristram Kenyon

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