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Strange Fruit (Play Review) Strange Fruit (Play Review)
Strange Fruit (Play Review)

Strange Fruit by renowned playwright Caryl Philips is tells how families can be quickly destroyed when long hidden uncomfortable truths of the past are slowly unearthed.


Set in the 80s, brothers Alvin and Errol can’t see much of a future for themselves in Britain with all the economic and political systems stacked against them so in their different ways plan to leave for better lives abroad.


Errol is a misogynistic clueless wannabe revolutionary who dreams of returning to Africa with his ‘revolutionary brothers’ to revitalise the political system and plans to fund this through a robbery he’s planned.


Brother Alvin has returned from a visit to his home island, angry, bitter and disillusioned. Instead of discovering a beautiful country that he could call home, he’s not only shunned by relatives but finds a place riddled with corruption and inefficiencies.


Everything comes a raging conclusion when the brothers angrily turn on their mother when, to their horror they discover she’d been lying to them about their father who had not died a noble cricketer but rather a penniless, cancer ridden pauper.


The 80’s and early 90’s were a period of political and economic turmoil for young Black people in Britain. Faced with daily police brutality and the constant threat of violence from the likes of National Front, some mobilised into underground Black Panther like organisations whilst others plan to snub Britain entirely and returning ‘home’, wherever that may be.


The feelings of ‘rootlessness’ and a need to ‘belong’ to a society that wants you, combined with the disintegration of families when secrets are unearthed are the themes that the writer cleverly explores in this deeply absorbing production.


Jonathan Ajayi gives a totally mesmerising performance as Errol, the confused, sexist, bullying younger brother, longing for Africa, but clueless as to how to get there. He was so odious in his role, to the point of almost being unbearable to watch without being filled with anger.


High praise must also go to Tilly Steele, whose portrayal of Shelly, the suffering low esteemed, much put upon ‘punch bag’ girlfriend of Errol was so totally emotive that at times she was almost too painful to watch.


Rakie Ayola gives a heart wrenching performance as Vivian, mother of the brothers, struggling against all odds to keep her crumbling family together as the consequences of her past deceit comes crashing down around her.


Toks Stephens is fine in as the utterly disenchanted brother Alvin, who feels he has nowhere to call ‘home’ after his disastrous trip to the isle of his birth, as is Debra Michaels as Vernice, who just longs for the warm comfort of a man’s arms to combat her growing loneliness.


The simple carpeted set design by Mac Johns combined with wittily placed artefacts the audience entered were very effective in creating the look and feel of a typical ‘West Indian’ home.


Director Nancy Medina, to her credit shrewdly manages to balances action, dialogue and slices of humour in this very long production, keeping it moving at a pace that ensured the audience were engaged throughout.


This was a thoroughly enjoyable and compelling watch, especially for the agonising sado-masochistic relationship between Errol and Shelly. Highly recommended and a great night out.


12 June-20 July, Bush Theatre W12 8LJ From £10 Visit https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/strange-fruit/ for details and times
Strange Fruit is the latest edition in the Passing the Baton series, following Winsome Pinnock’s Leave Taking in 2018.

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