August in England review: Lenny Henry’s Windrush play is punchy and poignant

Lenny Henry could have picked a less complex subject for his first play than the Windrush generation. To turn it into a comedy monologue seems like a different feat altogether. Yet, somehow, he pulls it off. August in England puts a name to the political scandal – the name of August Henderson, a fictional British-Jamaican man. Having arrived in England (or “H’Inglan’”, as he pronounces it) using his mother’s passport, August tells us the tale of his life. The stand-up comedian and Comic Relief co-founder imbues the character with his own quick wit and impeccable comic timing. At times, the script struggles to smoothly link the laughs with the trauma of the situation, but Henry’s performance is a thing to behold.

From the moment he swaggers onto the stage, handing out shots of unspecified alcohol to the front row, he asserts August as a loveable rogue – a ladies’ man getting himself into (and swiftly out of) scrapes. This is Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man told through a 90-minute stand-up set: the show tumbles through August’s life in West Bromwich, his accent flipping from Jamaica to Midlands with consistent inconsistency. You root for August so deeply that, when Lynette Linton’s production takes a turn – letters from the Home Office falling from the ceiling and tumbling out of cabinets – your stomach drops too.

Henry isn’t a Windrush baby himself – although his older siblings could have been – but August is undeniably a version of himself. The Seventies time capsule of his living room, complete with crushed red carpet and orange wallpaper, is the setting from which Henry riffs with the audience and squeezes every last line of comic potential. The performance is unrelenting, with song and dance peppered throughout. Henry cha-cha-chas, gyrates against a pillar and even gives a particularly creepy recreation of Theresa May’s robot moves. “Now that’s a hostile environment!” he quips, to roars of laughter.

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