Review: Leave Taking, Bush Theatre

A scorching revival of Winsome Pinnock’s Leave Taking is an absolute triumph at the Bush Theatre

“What they know about a black woman soul?”

It’s the little details. A quiet mention by two sisters of the four grandparents that they never met, all remaining in Jamaica as their mother emigrated to England in search of a better life for the family she was destined to have. It’s an aching sadness that permeates Winsome Pinnock’s 1987 intimate and insightful play Leave Taking and one which I’d never really considered before (my grandpa lived next door and my nan and grandad were only ever a couple hours drive away). Consider my eyes opened.

Life in Deptford has proven far from a dream for Enid, working her fingers to the bone in two jobs to provide for her daughters Del and Viv, themselves struggling with an identity caught between Caribbean roots and their mother’s new-found Englishness. To help soothe their souls, they visit a local Obeah woman, a spiritual healer, though no-one is prepared for the depth of feeling and the uncomfortable nature of the truths that need to be unleashed.   

Madani Younis’ production for his Bush Theatre is nigh-on perfect. Stripped back to the barest of detail in Rosanna Vize’s sparsely evocative set, the scene is set for a scorching examination of what is meant by home, and by identity, how these changes between generations but also within ourselves, over time, as the harshness of reality strips any illusions away. Sarah Niles delivers a performance of exceptional depth as Enid, simply spectacular as she details all that has made her soul so weary, more than just the physical exertion of overwork. 

And she’s matched by fearless work from Nicholle Cherrie’s studious Viv and Seraphina Beh’s wilder Del, each acting out differently in the name of finding their ‘selves’ but also in finding a way to connect with each other that satisfies those ideals. The weight of not wanting to disappoint those who love us is a heavy load here and one it isn’t entirely clear whether these women can cast off. Adjoa Andoh’s healer is another stand-out performer, not free of her own issues even while she helps others. And Wil Johnson’s Uncle Brod is a vividly comic ray of rum-soaked sunshine that hints at how daily life is made bearable.

At a moment when the ripples of the Windrush scandal are still so keenly felt (if not by this administration…), one has to be grateful for productions such as this and the National’s recent Nine Night. Shining a light not just on aspects of Jamaican culture one might not have been aware of, but also offering just a smidgen of the Black British experience and what it means to equate two cultures within oneself, even before you have to deal with all the shit the outside world is waiting to throw at you.

You feel just how important theatre like this is, it demands to be seen. And it needs to be threaded through our theatrical culture in a much more meaningful way, as a method of understanding more about what our country is today. As worthy as the Pinter and Wilde West End seasons are, it is the Winsome Pinnocks, the Natasha Gordons, the Inua Ellams who really ought to be getting this treatment.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photos: Helen Murray
Leave Taking is booking at the Bush Theatre until 30th June

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