Leave Taking opens on a hazy, warm set into which Mai, an obeah (a Caribbean healing woman, played by Adjoa Andoh) saunters, cracks open a beer and lays down in a beam of sunlight. Within minutes, however, the arrival of Enid (Sarah Niles) and her two daughters Del and Viv rudely interrupt this peaceful Caribbean fantasy and relocate the action firmly to Deptford. It is a clever way to start a clever play about the tensions between two cultures, two generations and two ways of life.
The experience of Caribbean immigrants and Black British people – especially women – are set front and centre in this production, and although the play was written in 1991 it never feels dated or irrelevant to England in 2018. Motherhood, loneliness, homesickness, the teenage search for an identity – this play explores a range of themes with complexity, depth and grace, deftly weaving from heart wrenching scenes to moments of genuine hilarity. The pace is incredible and Madani Younis’ direction is talented – allowing, for example, anger to bubble below the surface but only to erupt in the most meaningful ways.
Rosanna Vize’s set is simple but inspired. Two rooms and an arrangement of blocks and cupboards allow the set to represent both Enid’s house and Mai’s house, and the addition of taps rigged into the ceiling allow for a stunning visual moment of rain in the first act. It is complemented well by Rajiv Pattani’s lighting design and the soundtrack (designed by Ed Clarke) brings everything together coherently.
Performances by all five actors are incredibly strong. Nicholle Cherrie and Seraphina Beh have a great natural chemistry as the two daughters, and Wil Johnson skilfully provides much needed comic relief throughout the play. Adjoa Andoh brings wisdom and grace to the character of the ‘obeah’, and Sarah Niles delivers a standout performance as Enid, the homesick and conflicted mother.
Press night for Leave Taking saw a large number of black audience members, with whom this fantastic play seemed to resonate all the harder. As a white woman, I’m sure many of the references and characterisations were not designed for me to enjoy in the same way, but that’s what made being part of the audience feel all the more of a privilege. It is a sensitive and honest portrayal of how many people in England experience life and whether that is relatable to you or not, I highly recommend educating yourself through the medium of Leave Taking.
Images: Helen Murray