Wednesday, 10 October 2018

'Windrush: Movement of the People'


What a mesmerising, captivating and completely absorbing performance Windrush: Movement of the People is. I was lucky enough to catch it at Bristol Old Vic, where it is only on for two nights at the start of a tour to various venues around the UK (check the link at the end of this post for more information).

Created by the impressive Phoenix Dance Theatre, Windrush celebrates and illuminates the promises, reality and hope during this 70th anniversary year of the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush, which brought the first Caribbean migrants to the UK. The boat brought 492 people (known as the Windrush generation) from the Caribbean to the UK in 1948 in a moment that marked the start of the post war immigration boom that led to a radical shift in British society.

The soundtrack by Christella Litras is evocative and effective, spinning between calypso, jazz, gospel, reggae and more, and completely brings to life the changes occuring in those crucial decades of Britain’s formative multicultural era. The refrain of “You called and we came” from a poem read aloud is particularly haunting, as the newly arrived immigrants are shunned and excluded from a hostile British society.

Choreographer (and Phoenix Dance Company artistic director) Sharon Watson creates an extraordinary story that introduces us to our protagonists who are full of hope at what a move to the UK might mean (the sunny orange lighting supporting this), and then the awful reality of racism and bigotry that they encounter once here (portrayed by eerie faceless dancers in masks who wonderfully conjure up a sense of fear and ignorance, and backed up by dark and sombre lighting), followed by the sense of community and camaraderie that is fostered as a result (matched by the warmth of interior lighting). The duet between a reunited couple (Vanessa Vince-Pang, pictured above, and Prentice Whitlow), who had been parted for months, is especially beautiful to watch.

Windrush: Movement of the People is utterly mesmerising and I was gasping when the performance ended. I wanted to watch more and I want to watch it again. Don’t miss this!

Windrush is at Bristol Old Vic for two nights only, as part of its UK tour. It is performed at Bristol Old Vic as part of the Seeds of Change week, which is itself a part of Black History Month.  For more information on the national tour of Windrush, please click here.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Down in Demerara

There’s a suspicion that Felix Radstock has gone on holiday by mistake…

The protagonist in Mike Manson’s third novel Down in Demerara is a freelance labour market research analyst who is plucked from his sleepy Bristol office by the mysterious DoDO organisation to head to Guyana on a fact finding mission. What follows is the hilarious but touching story of an innocent abroad in a very unusual place.

Guyana is a real place on the northern mainland of South America, yet few people have heard of it (myself included, prior to reading Down in Demerara). So Mike handily provides us with a hand-drawn map at the front of the book, locating Guyana and its capital Georgetown with the other areas of the country that Felix visits. And Mike creates a wonderful mental film for the reader of the sights and sounds of the South American wildlife and habitats, drawn from his own visits there.

Set in 1999, with the shadow of the millennium bug looming over the world, Felix is feeling the growing pressure to finish his report about this little known South American country (and return to the safety of Bristol and his fiance) before Christmas and before the world implodes when the Y2K bug destroys all the infrastructure. But before that can happen, our innocent abroad has to put his trust in a lot of unlikely characters as he navigates his way around an increasingly bizarre state of affairs. The sense of paranoia and panic is escalating.

With his driver and assistant Xavier leading him a merry dance, Felix finds his preconceptions - and misconceptions - challenged. He is wrong to think Xavier is simply a driver; he is wrong to think the mysterious Roxy actually wants to measure his head for a hat; and he is wrong to think he really knows why DoDo has sent him to Guyana... as Felix’s heart-rending visit to the gold mines in the heart of the bush and rainforest reveal.

As well as being a ramshackle travelogue, Down in Demerara is also a ecological warning, gently advising the reader of the importance of making a difference, however small it seems. Always be suspicious of the big, evil corporations. But always be gentle to blue butterflies.

Mike Manson writes with a gentle, friendly and humorous tone that makes you feel from page one that you are in the company of a friend. As with his other novels, Down in Demerara is a comfortable read that draws you in quickly, but it is also pleasing to note the leaps and bounds that Mike’s writing has matured by in his third novel (no doubt thanks to the guidance of his writing tutor Fay Weldon: if you’re going to take advice from anyone, Fay is pretty much as good as it gets!). Mike’s own passion for spreading the word about the magic of Guyana and for challenging our assumptions about people and places comes through loud and clear, and makes for a refreshing and funny read in his sparkling new book.

Down In Demerara is published by Tangent Books. Pre-order your copy from this link.