Leave Taking at the Bush Theatre
The Bush might just be the best place to watch theatre in London. The inclusivity of its programming and pricing structure creates an audience far more engaged with what’s on stage than its peers, an effect in full force with Madani Younis’s timely revival of Leave Taking. Of course, it helps that Winsome Pinnock’s play is an absolute blinder.
Enid (Sarah Niles) has brought her two daughters Del (Seraphina Beh) and Viv (Nicholle Cherrie) to the only Obeah woman in Deptford – the inimitable Mai (Adjoa Andoh) – to find out exactly what’s going on with her offspring. From here, the drama takes a delicate, often heart-stopping deep dive into what it means to be a mother and a daughter, an immigrant and someone born and raised in a country different to that of their parents.
Pinnock is incredibly even-handed when looking at the tensions between generations. The pressures felt by Del and Viv to justify their mother’s sacrifices, to play the game of respectability politics, are an enormous weight to carry. But so too are the pains of the past endured by Mai, Enid and family friend Brod (a hilarious Wil Johnson), who are first-hand witnesses to the vampirism of colonialism. There is no right or wrong here; only a group of people trying to find their way in a country constantly making them feel unwelcome and unworthy.
In Enid and Mai, the piece has two magnificent pillars of strength and sacrifice – not only in the work required to survive in an unloving England, but the racism absorbed in the pursuit for a better future. Burdened with a responsibility to the past, be it towards family or spirituality (something treated as seriously as it was in the National Theatre’s Nine Night), they’re a pair of fantastically meaty roles made majestic by Niles and Andoh. The former buries her rage beneath the wish for her daughters to succeed, the latter’s spiky edges hiding a deep well of hurt.
But this production really belongs to Del, the clearest bridge between past, present and future. Almost the entirety of the second half is made up of conversations between the troubled youngster and the rest of the cast, with Beh especially impressing in her intense heavyweight scenes alongside her fellow actresses.
The best choice Younis makes is to eschew any real sense of Leave Taking as a period piece. A record player here and a wired landline there are the only hints that this was written in 1987, not 2018. Part of that is down to the depressingly evergreen nature of what the playwright is talking about, as evidenced by the ongoing Windrush scandal. But it is more than that. The play’s characters are fleshy things with not an ounce of dust on them; they’ll feel just as alive for another 30 years yet.
Photo: Helen Murray
Leave Taking is at Bush Theatre from 30th May until 30th June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.