Leave Taking, Bush Theatre

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by guest critic Joanna Trainor

“He wants me to know who I am.”

Sometimes you can question why a theatre has chosen a particular moment to produce a revival of a show. This is not one of those times.

Leave Taking might have been written thirty years ago, but our government’s current attitude to migrants means it could have been written thirty days ago. Madani Younis’ direction has a timeless quality to it and we’re given no real indication of when it’s set from the costume or stage design.

What feels really on the nose is “Uncle” Brod’s story about having to pay for nationalisation when he was a British citizen after coming to England many years ago. Where have we heard that story before? I wonder how far into the future this will continue to resonate with people living at that time.

Winsome Pinnock’s award-winning play tells the story of Enid Matthews, a first generation immigrant from Jamaica and her two daughters  – Del and Viv – as they try and make sense of their conflicting cultural identities.

Unfortunately, Nicholle Cherrie’s Viv lacks the maturity the role needs. Viv’s concerns about her impending future have no real impetus, feeling more like a toddler’s tantrums, than a young woman searching for who she is and where she stands in the world. It’s all a little too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but her relationship with trouble-maker sister Del has a beautiful realism as they love and hate each other in equal measure. They fizz around the stage in their scenes together.

But this show belongs to Sarah Niles. Enid Matthews’ moments of silence and contemplation are deafening before she finishes the first act by admitting “I want to go home.” Up until this point, Enid has put up this front of being very proud of her new life in England, describing her daughters as “English girls”, and only letting the mask slip when visiting an obeah woman. Her commitment to giving her family a proper life, it’s as much of an obligation for Enid as it feels a burden for her daughters. But as everything around her unravels, Enid has to deal with the reality of her circumstances, and Niles gives an incredibly touching performance.

Coming out of the Bush I walked past a man speaking with a thick Belfast accent, and had a think about my mix of cultural identities. Leave Taking is a stunning production and one I think our political leaders would highly benefit from seeing.

Leave Taking runs until 30 June.

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