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August in England funny, cheeky, moving, poignant, sad, upsetting, well-rounded characters, brilliant performance in Windrush story

August in England funny, cheeky, moving, poignant, sad, upsetting, well-rounded characters, brilliant performance in Windrush story

Sitting in the audience watching ‘August in England’, it is hard to believe that it is Lenny Henry’s debut play for it has everything needed for a great play. He is well known for his comedy shows, his amazing previous works and now he can certainly add playwright to his list. ‘August in England’ is funny, cheeky, knowing, moving, poignant, sad, upsetting, and angry-making. In ninety minutes, you go through a plethora of emotions. 

            The play opens with a confident, swaggering August. He engages immediately with great humour and panache, talking to the audience, handing out shots of drink from a trolley. He holds court, dances, grinds to ska and reggae with an energy and great physicality that belies his age. His imaginary dance with Clarice against a pillar brings the house down.


  ‘August in England’ is a monologue that is full of memorable, richly developed characters and Henry moves effortless between them. There is the rogue ladies-man father, the strong mother, lovers, children, friends … and the British government. It is a tale of Jamaica-born August Henderson, brought to England on his mother’s passport in 1962 at eight years old, to find his father who had come before them and disappeared was having an affair. August goes to school first in Peckham before they move to the midlands where his parents hope to repair their marriage and have a better life. He makes friends, forms a band, meets Clarice the love of his life, has three children, grandchildren, he buys a grocery store, runs a club. In fact, he lives a full and comfortable life.


Henry is a born raconteur. He knows how to tell a story, his timing is impeccable, calling on his long career as a comic. The quick one-liners are right on point and hilarious. They come fast and furious. His parent’s marriage described as ‘miserable as Nigel Farage at the Notting Hill Carnival’, (his reason for not marrying Clarice). When he talks about Theresa May, the then Prime Minister, about halfway through the show, ‘have you seen her dancing? Now there’s a disaster.’ we belly-laugh at his impression of her dancing, Although she is quickly dismissed this is a forewarning of the disaster that is to come, the shameful Windrush scandal.


   In ‘August in England’ Henry show his considerable talent as a writer and an actor. He assuredly takes us on August’s journey, code changing accents from Jamaica to Brummy English. His suit and flat cap tell us the kind of person he is as he lets us into his life. We see the other side of August when Clarice dies. The pain of losing her is visible as he caresses her chair, and he can barely recount the funeral before he has to turn away to hide his sobs and he tears at our hearts.  

Lenny Henry; co-director Daniel Bailey and Lynette Linton


     We are happy for him when he finds Vilma, his new love, and are devastated when after he decides to marry her the brown letters start dropping from the Home Office, telling him that he does not have leave to stay in the UK. At first unbelieving he and his daughter try to sort it out, after all he has lived for fifty-two years in England. He is brought to his knees when he realises that the Home Office will not back down. Picked up at his engagement party and whisked off to a detention centre, he awaits his deportation from the UK, leaving behind, his children, #grandchildren, his new life with Vilma. We are angry that this man whom we have come to know, who is not just a number to us, is to be removed from the only home he has known to a country where he no longer belongs.

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In rehearsals with Daniel Bailey

            The ending is abrupt and a little clunky as it moves from him sitting dejectedly alone at the detention centre to filmed interviews of real victims of the Windrush scandal. This, however, shows just how cruel the ongoing government policy is and the unfairness of the system catches our breaths. The question is what happens to August?

            Confidently co-directed by Lynette Linton and Daniel Bailey and Henry’s switches between past and present is punctuated by Jai Morjaria’s lighting design. Shelley Maxwell’s movement direction adds vigour and pace to the play. Lenny Henry draws on his own Jamaican and Midlands heritage to bring us some well-rounded characters in a brilliantly talented performance. It is well worth seeing. You will laugh, you will cry, you will be angry and maybe, just maybe, we will all do something about the Windrush scandal that still continues.

Written by Anni Domingo who is a British actress, director, author and writer, working in theatre, television, radio and films. Follow on Instagram