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Leave Taking (Review) Leave Taking (Review)
Leave Taking (Review)

“What doctor know about our illness? Just give you pills to sick you stomach and a doctor certificate. What they know about a black woman soul?”

 

This was just one of the many thought provoking lines from Leave Taking, the thoroughly absorbing revival of Winsome Pinnock’s classic, award winning play first staged in 1991.

 

Set in the South London district of Deptford, it tells the story of four women, two generations and what is left behind in the search for a new and better homeland.

 

Enid, supremely played by Sarah Niles (Father Comes Homes From the Wars) is worried that her children Del and Viv are carrying some kind of spiritual sickness that she takes them to see Mai, the local obeah woman, wonderfully crafted by Adjoa Andoh (Assata Taught Me, Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes).

 

Secrets are revealed and spilled on all sides, things said that cannot be taken back and conflicts erupts such that Del the older sister (Seraphina Beh) leaves home and takes refuge with Mia.

 

Into this cauldron of tension and despondency enters the drunken but surprisingly insightful Uncle Brod, played with obvious and delightful relish by Wil Johnson (King Lear, Waking the Dead), who during his alcohol fuelled rants reveals many long buried family secrets especially those concerning the brutal treatment of Enid at the hands of her long departed husband.

 

The first half of the production mainly centres on introducing the audience to the main characters and the affectionate and compelling relationship between Brod and the younger sister Viv (Nicolle Cherrie).

 

The second half is an absorbing engrossing insight into the deep and mystical world of Obeah and African Caribbean spirituality as well as the deepening complex and symbiotic relationship between Del and Mia. With each having to search within themselves and each other for answers to dark and unnerving questions.

 

It also explores what families have to do and the price that’s paid in trying to raise African Caribbean children in strange lands against a background of hostility and loss of self-identity.

 

Much as the play was interested, this current revival of Winsome Pinnock’s classic play was certainly showing its age. The themes of what is lost and left behind when people are wrenched from their homes to forge new lives in strange lands are well explored and sadly this production adds no new twist, message or emotive dimension.

 

Additionally the hardships and the emotional price families pay for bringing up new generations children in old fashion ways in new lands are teased out but never fully explored to any depth.

 

The acting in the main was accomplished with all the cast putting worthy if not riveting performances. Somewhat surprising since the cast included stellar actors such as Adjoah Andoh and Wil Johnson with years of stage experience between them.

 

Given the mainly young audience, I felt it was a missed opportunity for the director, Madani Younis (The Royale).to put a contemporary twist on the still relevant challenges of raising new generations whilst still longing for the past, assertion of one’s identity in new lands and the insidious and devastating effect that racism has on all of this.

 

An admirable play overall and judging by the lengthy standing ovation giving, my slightly jaded views were certainly in the minority. With a reggae tinged sound track , generous spacious seating and a production peppered with comedic moments I would certainly recommend a trip to Shepherd Bush (the home of Westfield) to see this play.

 

Leave Taking, 24 May – 30 June, Bush Theatre,W12 8LJ, £10-£20, 7.30pm

 

Reviewed by Tayo Idowu

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