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Review: Strange Fruit, at Bush Theatre

20 June, 2019 — By Angela Cobbinah

Tok Stephen and Debra Michaels in Strange Fruit. Photo: Helen Murray

CARYL Phillips wrote this play shortly after graduating in 1979 and its powerful evocation of dispossession and generational conflict shows why he went on to become such a perceptive novelist.

The action revolves around Windrush migrant Vivian and her two sons who are torn apart by their differing responses to racism.

While Vivian prefers to keep her head down and make the most of a bad business for the sake of her boys, Errol (Jonathan Ajayi) has turned his back on the steady life she’s built for him, dreaming instead of “going back to Africa where everybody is black”.

Alvin (Tok Stephens), meanwhile, has returned from his first trip to the Caribbean, full of disappointment that he was treated like a foreigner, even by his own relatives. Both are lost and confused, particularly Errol who spouts black power while having a white girlfriend, dealing with the contradiction by treating her appallingly.

Like most mothers, it is poor Vivian who gets it in the neck as both sons – her strange fruit – turn on her. Her only consolation comes from no-nonsense friend Vernice (Debra Michaels), who provides a few moments of levity.

Overlong with much speechifying and no stage set to speak of save for a stylised pit, the drama is nevertheless engrossing, with riveting performances from Rakie Ayola as Vivian in all her nervous distraction and pent-up hurt, and Ajayi as a young man teetering on the edge of an abyss.

Until July 21
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