Review: ★★★★ Strange Fruit, Bush Theatre

Strange Fruit by Caryl Phillips, performed for the first time since 1980, explores identity in Britain through two generations holding polarising beliefs to great effect. 

Set entirely in the front room, we begin with Vivian (Rakie Ayola), who moved from the Caribbean with her two young sons around twenty years ago. She talks with her oldest friend, Vernice (Debra Michaels). The contrasts are obvious. Vernice has a thick Caribbean accent while Vivian, talks gently.

This issue drops down a generation, as Vivian’s sons, her strange fruit, are battling their own fight.

Firstly, the younger Errol (Jonathan Ajayi), erratic and energised, he is politically charged and itching for action. He flicks between the Caribbean lingo he wishes he’d been brought up on and the English accent he’s replaced it with. Ajayi does incredibly with this role and allows you to feel his anger and passion of not belonging.

Bombarding his white naive Catholic girlfriend, Shelley (Tilly Steele), timid and desperate, she brings a nervous comedy through her ignorance as she sadly puts up with Errol’s abuse.

Post interval, we meet the elder son, Alvin. Recently returned from the Caribbean, the experience proved not to be the pilgrimage he’d dreamed of. After a physical fight with Errol, there’s no doubt in our minds that this tug of war between identity and alienation does not have a simple answer.

This power complex takes us to the set, a carpet laid pit that poetically portrays the complexity of the struggle while Nancy Medina’s direction allows the viewer to feel the pain of disposition. What makes this play all the more powerful is that forty years later the issues are still rife within society. Those who have worked so hard to integrate and define themselves as English still get told to go back home – see The Windrush scandal.

The Bush Theatre have produced a gem which tackles honest truths and experiences. In a play that centrals on identity, one can’t help but ponder, how does Britain make everyone feel welcome? 

Jamie Kutner

Jamie Kutner
Jamie Kutner

Jamie Kutner joined the Upper Circle team in May 2019. After an unconventional route into writing via a Quantity Surveying degree and time spent teaching English in Vietnam, Jamie is now working towards forging a career as a screenwriter, playwright and critic. He favours dramas or comedies and cites Simon Stephens as a major inspiration. He also has an inbuilt love for musicals and will proudly confess he has seen Wicked five times.


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