• Miles Hedley

VOICES FROM WINDRUSH at Greenwich Theatre



Controversy tends to provoke increasingly extreme reactions. But as Voices From Windrush at Greenwich Theatre showed, a more measured response can be just as devastatingly effective.

 

Through drama, song, poetry, spoken word and film, this heartfelt production by local charity Global Fusion Music And Arts said more about the harsh realities of life in Britain for the Windrush generation and their descendants than any furious polemic could have done because although its sense of outrage was palpable it was never preachy.

 

Voices was presented as a kind of cultural review show, with social and political vignettes serving as sketches interspersed with a live band playing tunes in the styles that have soundtracked the West Indian immigrant experience like calypso, jazz and reggae.

 

And the vignettes themselves remembered, lauded and celebrated the civil rights campaigners who fought so hard against the wall of prejudice and hatred every incomer faced – and sometimes continue to face – such as judge and war hero Uric Cross, international singing star Mona Baptiste and pioneering activists Hubert Baron Baker, Sam B King and Frank Crichlow.

 

They also remembered the struggles of everyday people thanks to the poetry of Antonette Clarke-Akalanne and the moving reminiscences of Andre Mathurin – the show’s musical director - and Charlton community stalwart Sharon Mann who both came to the UK as children and grew up in areas rife with racism.

 

I especially liked the irony-rich sequence that featured a young Enoch Powell urging West Indians to come to Britain to help rebuild the war-ravaged country and promising them a warm welcome.

 

This part of the show was written collectively by GFMA founder Louisa Le Marchand and director Sean Alayo along with Clarke-Akalanne, Mathurin, Mann and actor Morgan Archer who played both Cross and Crichlow.

 

The other roles were shared out between Sam Burridge, Surrya Edwards, Jessie Nnanna, Paul Kwey, Doug Berry and Francyne Zetta, while the music was provided – brilliantly – by Mathurin on bass, Dan Monte on steel pan and keys, Claire Hurst on sax, Timothy Amatah on drums and Phiyah Stone on vocals.

 


The second half of the evening was given over to a film, put together by Le Marchand, that gave an important overview of the Windrush generation’s battle for equality against not only hostile locals but a hostile establishment. We’ve all seen the clips of police aggression during the Brixton riots, the Lewisham anti-fascist demo and the protests following the New Cross Fire – not to mention the Met’s institutional racism over the Stephen Lawrence murder - but these scenes bear regular repetitions to remind us that we must be ever-vigilant in the fight for a truly just society.

 

Voices From Windrush, produced by Le Marchand and GFMA co-founder Gill Swan, was an exemplary piece of community theatre, shot through with quiet anger but also brimming with loud celebration, fearless moral honesty and absolute integrity. Everyone involved should be very proud.

 

Pictures: Hakob Muradyan

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