Edinburgh Fringe 2022
By invite, the Windrush Generation came to rebuild Britain following the end of the Second World War. In 1960 Admiral, then 12, along with his Barbadian parents proudly accepted. Like many recruited throughout the Caribbean they answered the call of the Mother Country, leaving their homeland and relocating to work and live in Britain. Now 71, Admiral is being returned to the Caribbean to a land that he no longer knows. A new solo play with song. Written, performed and directed by Christopher Tajah.
Nelson Cartwright – “Admiral” to his friends, arrived on the shores of the UK at the age of 12, one of the “Windrush Generation”. He is now 71, and about to undergo his final interview with the Home Office to ascertain his right to remain in England. He and his wife have worked all their lives and contributed their taxes to the UK Government. Their children were born here. They fought racism and bigotry and built a life for themselves in London. So imagine their dismay when she is refused life saving cancer treatment because her papers are not in order. She has sadly passed away before we meet Admiral, a now broken man unable to comprehend the situation in which he finds himself and Theresa May’s “hostile environment”, which is the cause.
The Windrush scandal must surely be one of the most shameful chapters of the UK’s recent history. We discover during the course of the play that all the boarding and landing cards of the people who arrived as part of the Government’s scheme to recruit immigrants to work in the country post-World War II have been destroyed. With no documentation, apart from all those taxes they’ve paid, there is little hope of turning around decisions made by faceless bureaucrats that directly affect the lives of the many individuals who regards the UK as their home.
“Admiral” is a solo play with music lasting around 40 minutes. The subject matter is so compelling and important, and writer/performer Christopher Tajah has such charisma and stage presence that 50 minutes of narrative and 5 minutes less music would make this an extremely powerful piece. It is premiering at the Fringe so no doubt changes will be made after – if not during – the run here. The music as it is in the piece at present doesn’t quite work; it’s a nice device and Tajah’s voice is pleasant but the songs are overlong and somewhat laboured. It looks like it’s hard work and the rest of the performance is so natural and heartfelt that this jars. The choice of “Mr Bojangles” is not far short of brilliant and Tajah’s performance of the song is moving. But it is a long song and there is too much of it here. A shortened version without choreography would be more poignant. The second number, which was new to me was an inspired choice (about being in limbo) and was nicely delivered. The third and final piece was not so well chosen. Al Green’s music is not easy to perform. It is even more difficult without accompaniment and took away precious time where we could have been learning more about the love story that was at the heart of the play. The audience want to meet the love of this man’s life, they don’t need to know which song was playing when they met. And this episode is key to the play. Without his wife Admiral has lost what little fight he had.
Christopher Tajah is a busy man – he is performing or directing four plays across the Fringe this year, all of which he has written himself. In “Admiral” he uses the clever device of his audience being sent in to view the property he knows he has to vacate. Even before that final Home Office interview, Admiral knows when he’s beaten. He “never said anything” when he suffered racist abuse at school and work in his younger days and we just know he’s not going to say anything to fight his corner at that interview. Admiral is going back to Barbados.
The simple chair and already-packed suitcase set work well for the Fringe and as already stated, Tajah is a charismatic performer. But he’s missed a trick or two with this piece. It’s almost as if the subject matter is too close to home and he feels that more information and emotion would be self-indulgent. It would not. The audience for this piece, if they already know something of the Windrush Scandal will be intrigued by more factual detail of the terrible treatment of some of our most loyal and hard working citizens. And those people coming to the subject for the first time should be made aware of just how shameful an episode it has been.
This is an important piece. I wish it well.