A Breath Of Fresh Caribbean Air
Phil Hopkins, Travel & Arts Correspondent
“I didn’t know it would be 20 years before I saw him again.” The haunting words of author Mike Phillips as he stood at the Caribbean dockside, waving goodbye to his 16-year-old brother and parents aboard the SS Empire Windrush bound for England.
No doubt his book, ‘Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain’, must have provided a wealth of inspiration to Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, Sharon Watson, and her new wonderfully evocative work, Windrush Movement of the People.
It was 1948, England was in the aftermath of the Second World War, and the call went out to the Empire for nurses, engineers and labourers to move to the ‘Motherland’ and help re-build a broken nation.
London asked, ‘they’ came but, when they did, it was an alien world full of suspicion for those with darker skin, white smiles and colourful garb. Multicultural Britain had been born.
And it is this moment that Sharon Watson has sought to capture in Phoenix’s new production, Windrush, as colourful and vibrant, in many ways, as Edward Lynch’s Nightlife at the Flamingo, but more poignant because it captures a pivotal moment in British history.
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I loved Watson’s work, how it begins against the backdrop of a hot, steamy Caribbean, but ends in a grey, post-war Britain where faceless people judge their new neighbours as though they were an invading force.
Works like this are important for they tell a story to a white generation that often fails to understand the meaning of ‘origin’ or, put another way, ‘where and how it all began’, specifically the multi-cultural story of Britain.
Windrush is powerful, colourful, dynamic and moving, serving as a timely reminder to people that things never just happen, there’s always a reason, a beginning, an origin.
Watson has been at the artistic helm since 2009, longer than any of her predecessors, but it is great to see that she still has fresh ideas and a company capable of producing powerful work that thrills multi-cultural audiences.
Many other theatres in the region should sit up and take note. Multi culturalism is at the core of modern Britain and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, more than most, knows it. However, artistically, non-white performance, often struggles to find its way in the darkness of many other regional stages.
It was a joy to be momentarily submerged in the colour and warmth of the Caribbean on a grey, cold Leeds night.
Phoenix - Windrush
West Yorkshire Playhouse
Finishes tonight (Friday 10th February)
A Breath Of Fresh Caribbean Air, 9th February 2018, 12:30 PM