Bush Theatre’s ‘Leave Taking’: Review.

Maybe it was reading a raft of articles discussing the ongoing dehumanising of the children of British colonialism and imperialism via government policy over decades culminating in the Windrush Scandal. Maybe it was listening to various podcasts discussing inter-generational trauma and the inheritance of a collective shame. Maybe it was seeing years of a lived experience as a bridge child, never truly welcomed here or there – yet authentically both – condensed into two hours of a delicate soft caress enshrined in prose and given breath through theatre. Maybe it was all these things and then some combined, but Leave Taking (by Winsome Pinnock) had me in tears.

The Bush Theatre has an amazing team. Somehow they seem to have selected, months in advance, shows that were pertinent to the general discourse at the time of selection, but seem to be available to the masses right at the time when the crescendo of voices,  participating in said conversations, is at it’s loudest. I simply ask that they recommend their obeah as they are most certainly as good as Mai is at reading the climate the family at the centre of this play finds itself, in ways Enid’s Pastor seems incapable. Yes, Leave Taking is a play about duality and multiplicity; a cultural juxtaposition of life as lived by an immigrant generation and their children. It is a critical look at the life chosen, the life abandoned and the sacrificial cost of the supposed salvation gleamed from making such a choice. At the centre of the complexity Enid and her daughters find themselves, lies the question; where is home? Does it lie in a mother’s farewell never received? A private joke shared amongst sisters? Is it found in a long forgotten memory awakened by friendship or the tenuous generosity of a stranger when you need it most but want it least? Or is it in the addictions we drown our pain with? As we soon find for each character, home is found in different places; Mai in her apprentice; Viv in school; Del, at first in partying, and then curiously in obeah; Brod in drink and Enid in her daughters.

As the child of African migrants who came to England in the early sixties, infused with imperial fervour and devout adoration of the Motherland, there is, in this performance, a raw visceral almost literal and cathartic outpouring of emotion which is almost never given a voice in our communities; a sorrow our parents and selves never expressed, an elephant in the room born of a leftover of our colonial subjugation reinforced here, where we believed ourselves to be equals, welcomed and free, only to find ourselves unwanted, commodified and disposable.  Leave Taking is a gentle firm reminder that immigrants are people too: they laugh and cry, they watch their dreams die and give their all to ensure their children don’t share the same fate, they worry about what other people think, they mistrust things and people they do not fully comprehend. I will forever have etched in my mind’s eye the picture of a crouched Del looking up at her mother with fear, uncertain about what is to come, her mother’s face sad yet loving and both women holding hands in a beautiful, tender and intimate moment as the lights cut out. The audience clapped and cheered whilst I sat silently in tears, grateful to have witnessed a truly great performance.

Showing until the 30th of June.


Written by: Xafia Fransour – Check him out on twitter
Image used: Adjoa Andoh and Seraphina Beh in ‘Leave Taking’ (Shot by Helen Murray).

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