A tag team of five young women play a young British black woman. She is not named, she is an everywoman, who moves from her East End London home to a University. There she notes she is “such a minority", the city and the University’s population being posh and predominately white.
With the current Windrush scandal, his narrative had renewed resonance
She has a good time fitting in, yet faces casual racism and ignorance; “coconut”, “can I touch it?” chant the cast as they swish across the stage, switching seamlessly to other bit-part characters. Also the more insidious kind: ”I can only see you when you smile,” thrown at her at a club, all leather jacket and aggressive dance moves.
Away from home, she feels a sense of loss and emptiness. When completing a form of tick boxes, she gets stuck on the final ethnicity section and questions: “Who am I?” “My voice is British,” but “my skin is more, my skin is of many”. Indeed.
And one of the many strengths of this devised piece is how the young woman’s personal experience is connected with historical events and so, by implication, larger social and political structures. For a play that is advertised as 'light-hearted' there is some serious stuff covered, such as snippets of speeches, including the infamous 1978 Thatcher ‘swamping’ interview, riots, the 1965 Soweto massacre, placarded protests, SUS law. But this flows seamlessly through the production as history flows into the present, as it is pointed out, it’s “the same story over and over again.”
This historical continuum is reinforced well with the character of the young woman’s 58-year-old father who, in short interposed scenes, narrates his own route from a young child growing up in Jamaica, where his first word was England, to a boat journey at the age of nine, an adventure, to arrive in Leytonstone in 1965 along with his parents who were invited to help rebuild the Motherland after the Second World War.
With the current Windrush scandal, his narrative had renewed resonance and the type of racism that no doubt fuelled the current debacle is made explicit as the father, again unnamed, recalls being called a black bastard, his first playground experience mirrored in later years by a policeman out to provoke. However, there is celebration too. For example, the importance of carnival: good energy, the control of space by people without control, and the ‘hard food’, made with love, to make you strong. And now middle-aged, the father appears to have achieved the self-acceptance his daughter is striving for, describing himself as a typical British cockney Jamaican.
His daughter, meanwhile, moves through feelings of despair and paranoia until finally stripped bare under the shower, “the hairs of my black skin making a stand,” she says her skin knows how it feels to be.
This all sounds rather heavy, but it’s really not. This physical theatre production has well-choregraphed movement and an energy to it. The drama sweeps across the stark set, there are few props, it’s all in the performances, which never feel laboured or over-wrought.
At times, to use a horrible hackneyed phrase, there seemed to be more telling than showing, but then again there was, is, a lot to tell. There is a line in the play: “No longer suffering, no longer silent, the battles remain.” Quite.