Culture Writer Anastasis Mauriac attends the showing of Windrush – The Betrayal and finds the show to represent the scandal impeccably whilst also bringing to light important issues
The plot of the play revolves around the Windrush generation and the Windrush scandal of 2017. The Windrush generation are those who arrived from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1973 to help rebuild the infrastructures of the nation after the 2nd World War. They were given British citizenship and free to permanently live and work in the UK as the Caribbeans were part of the British Commonwealth at the time.
The Windrush scandal of 2017 began to surface after it emerged that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens from the ‘Windrush’ generation, had been wrongly incarcerated, deported and denied legal rights. The Conservative government implemented the ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation in 2017, a set of policies designed to make the lives of those without status harder and ultimately push them to leave the United Kingdom.
This scandal happened because many of the Windrush generations arrived as children on their parents’ passports, and the government destroyed thousands of landing cards which meant they were unable to provide the documentation to prove their rights to remain. The ‘Hostile Environment’ policy required them to show proof of citizenship to remain in the UK, which they lacked.
In the first half of the show, the characters seemed one dimensional as the cast seemed split between the ‘bad guys’ and the ‘good guys’. The latter was evoked by the victims of the policy and the Guardian journalist who helped share their stories to the wider public. Their tone was emotional as they were bewailing, and trying to create empathy from the public.
The ‘bad guys’ were represented by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, and the law enforcement police officers. Their tone was harsh, cold and the Conservative government was even cynical at some points. The police officers acted like robots in their gestures and in their replies to the victims. Indeed, they are instructed to make the lives of the victims who come in the Immigration service a living hell. They always repeat that they need to show yearly proof of living to get a passport. They represent how our current administrative system is rigged with civil servants who cannot spend time with each person to find a solution, and rather have to give automated answers.
However, the good vs bad split was not highlighted with ethnicity. All the victims were black, but the Guardian journalist was white. And all the politicians were white, but two out of three law enforcement were black, which was pretty interesting as it evoked the theme of complicity. Indeed, they were abiding by the government’s policy which was targeting people of colour whilst themselves being of colour. At some point, one of the law enforcement police officers started arguing against the measures but was stopped by the angry look of the other police officer. Their rationale was that they were doing their job and if they disobeyed, they risked losing it.
The character who becomes two dimensional in the second half is Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Indeed, in the first half of the play, she seemed convinced by the policy. But in the second half, she started doubting the benefits, and regretting participating in it, in front of David Cameron and Theresa May.
The casting was well-done. The director of the play played a role as well which was very impressive. The audience found out at the end of the play that the comedian who played Theresa May had never played that role before, and was usually playing the role of Amber Rudd which, again, was very impressive.
The writing was witty but mostly serious. The interaction with the public was great as the audience laughed a lot at certain jokes. It was agreeing vocally after some facts were said and applauding after impactful scenes. Amber Rudd even broke the 5th wall by walking through the first row and asking the audience if they had a phone. The journalist also broke the 5th wall by talking directly to the audience as a voice over would do.
This contemporary play had very minimalist decors, costumes, and lighting. The scene was very simple and the colours were plain. A few chairs were used to set the scenes, and yellow lighting was used. I think the bare scene helped the public focus on the words of the comedians and the story.
The play shows the true colours of the Conservative government and how discriminatory the policy was towards people of colour. David Cameron is portrayed as a selfish politician focused on winning the next elections, and not caring about the sake of the Windrush generation. As we see behind the scenes, we see the government instructing civil servants to treat the Windrush generation people like second class citizens. The contrast with the TV interviews where the government is using big words to portray their policies and convince the audience is striking, and does not leave room for doubts about what they think of the Windrush generation, and how manipulative they are.
The Windrush scandal is not over yet as justice has still not been done. A lot of the victims have not been financially compensated for what they lost, and the play is also about remembering the names of the victims of the Windrush scandal, especially those who already died without being compensated for their loss.
This play was translated in British Sign Language which shows the effort of inclusivity. The comedians were very articulate which I appreciated as English is not my first language. However, I would have appreciated if English subtitles had been added as I would have more fully understood the play and especially its puns.
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