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August in England 

Lenny Henry

(Bush Theatre, 16 May–10 June, 2023)


Review by Trish Cooke


Waiting in London’s Bush Theatre bar to watch August in England, a play about the Windrush scandal that saw hundreds of Caribbean people in Britain wrongly targeted by immigration enforcement, I cast my eyes around. There are a lot of familiar faces, but one stands out. I nod and smile. It’s Michael Braithwaite, a victim of the Windrush scandal, reminding me how important it is to tell real life stories through theatre and the arts.

August in England is written and performed by Lenny Henry and directed by Lynette Linton and Daniel Bailey. This poignant play tells the story of August Henderson, faced with deportation from the UK to Jamaica, a country he left in 1962 when he was eight years old. Lenny Henry’s well-crafted monologue takes us on August’s journey – a familiar story for many of the Windrush generation. August’s father travels first, to England from Jamaica, with the intention of sending for his wife, Tallulah, and his son, August. He does not send for them and so August and his mother travel to England, only to find August’s father with a freckle-faced redhead. The young August idolises his father’s mistress and here we get a glimpse of what is to come when, years later, a guilt-ridden August betrays his long-time girlfriend, ill with cancer, with his own freckle-faced redhead. 

Despite the painful subject matter, Henry’s one-liners and comic timing make this show very funny. He can make us laugh and cry in an instant and, as we get to know August with his many flaws, we grow to love him. So, when the first letter from immigration enforcement drops down unexpectedly from above – in this simple but effective set design by Natalie Pryce – the implications are heavy and we are rooting for him to quickly produce the documents that will provide proof of his residence.

Throughout the play, Gino Ricardo Green’s video design cleverly reveals glimpses of August in a detention centre. These are short and unobtrusive flashes, but noticeable enough to be disturbing. We try to ignore them, just as August tries to ignore the subsequent letters he receives, but their intensity increases until August is forced to face his reality.

The colourful sound design and composition by Duramaney Kamara is laced with period music reference from skinhead and mod culture to reggae and dancehall.

Sitting next to a young couple, I wonder if these references land for them as they land for me and the other elders in the auditorium. As far as I can tell, those references may not be familiar to the young couple beside me, but I see them look around the audience frequently with smiles as their elders sway to the music and sing along to the tunes of the time while everyone acknowledges the injustices of the Windrush scandal. 

Photo by Tristram Kenton