The plot of the play revolves around the Windrush generation and the Windrush scandal of 2017. The Windrush generation are those who arrived from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1973 to help rebuild the nation’s infrastructure after WW2. They have been granted British citizenship and are free to live and work permanently in the UK, as the Caribbean was then part of the British Commonwealth.
The 2017 Windrush scandal began to surface after it emerged that hundreds of ‘Windrush’ generation Commonwealth citizens had been wrongfully imprisoned, deported and denied legal rights. The Conservative government implemented ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation in 2017, a set of policies designed to make life harder for people without status and eventually push them to leave the UK.
This scandal happened because many Windrush generations arrived as children on their parents’ passports, and the government destroyed thousands of landing cards, which prevented them from providing the documents proving their right to stay. The ‘hostile environment’ policy required them to show proof of citizenship to stay in the UK, which they lacked.
In the first half of the series, the characters seemed one-dimensional as the cast seemed split between the “bad guys” and the “good guys.” The latter was brought up by victims of the policy and the Guardian journalist who helped share their stories with the general public. Their tone was emotional as they lamented and tried to build empathy from the audience.
The “bad guys” were represented by the prime minister, interior minister and law enforcement officers. Their tone was harsh, cold and the Conservative government was even cynical at times. The police acted like robots in their gestures and in their responses to the victims. Indeed, they are instructed to make the lives of victims who present themselves to the immigration department a living hell. They keep repeating that they have to show annual proof of life to get a passport. They represent how our current administrative system is rigged with officials who cannot spend time with each person to find a solution, and must instead give automated answers.
However, the distribution between good and bad was not highlighted with ethnicity. All of the victims were black, but the Guardian reporter was white. And all the politicians were white, but two out of three law enforcement agencies were black, which was kind of interesting because it brought up the theme of complicity. Indeed, they respected government policy that targeted people of color when they themselves were of color. At one point, one of the law enforcement officers began to protest the measures, but was stopped by the other officer’s glare. Their reasoning was that they were doing their job and if they disobeyed, they risked losing it.
The character who becomes two-dimensional in the second half is Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Indeed, in the first half of the play, she seemed convinced by politics. But in the second half, she began to doubt the benefits, and to regret having participated, against David Cameron and Theresa May.
The casting was well done. The director of the play also played a very impressive role. The audience discovered at the end of the play that the actress who played Theresa May had never played this role before and usually played the role of Amber Rudd who, again, was very impressive.
The writing was witty but mostly serious. The audience interaction was great as the audience laughed a lot at some of the jokes. He would vocally agree after certain facts were said and clapped after hard-hitting scenes. Amber Rudd even broke the 5th wall by crossing the front row and asking the audience if they had a phone. The reporter also broke the 5th wall by addressing the audience directly as a voiceover would.
This contemporary piece had very minimalist sets, costumes and lighting. The scene was very simple and the colors were united. A few chairs were used to decorate the stages and yellow lighting was used. I think the bare stage helped the audience focus on the voice actors and the story.
The play shows the true colors of the Conservative government and how discriminatory the policy was against people of color. David Cameron is portrayed as a selfish politician focused on winning the next election and not caring about the good of the Windrush generation. As we see behind the scenes, we see the government asking officials to treat Windrush generation people like second-class citizens. The contrast to TV interviews where the government uses big words to portray its politics and convince the public is stark, and leaves no room for doubt about what it thinks of the Windrush generation, and how manipulative they are. .
The Windrush scandal is not over yet as justice has still not been served. Many victims have not been financially compensated for what they lost, and the play is also about remembering the names of victims of the Windrush scandal, especially those who have already died without being compensated for their loss.
This piece has been translated into British Sign Language, which shows the effort to be inclusive. The actors were very articulate, which I appreciated because English is not my mother tongue. However, I would have appreciated if English subtitles had been added because I would have understood the play better and especially its puns.
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