Rush: A Joyous Jamaican Journey

Rush Theatre Company
Birmingham Rep

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Rush: A Joyous Jamaican Journey

Rush: : A Joyous Jamaican Journey arrives at The Birmingham Rep in the middle of a nine-month tour which started in Southampton in February and goes through to Darlington in October.

First seen in 2019, the show is produced by Rush Theatre Company whose artistic mission is to bring to audiences, "an educational interactive journey through a mixture of visual arts and music from across the world [in order to provide] a wider knowledge & understanding of the positive enriching aspects of a multi-cultural society." Previous shows include The King Of Reggae, about Bob Marley, and A Brother With Soul.

As the title, and the name of the production company, suggests, the show celebrates the legacy of the Windrush generation who came to Britain to help rebuild the country after the Second World War. It consists of a narrator providing a social history of the Carribean, plus more recent black British history, accompanied by the JA Reggae Band.

Rush Theatre Company’s web site doesn’t tell you much about the show and there wasn’t a programme at the theatre, just a list of credits for the musicians and the narrator, Andrina Davis. There is no author credit and there are no actors, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to review it. It was on at The Rep, so I went in assuming I was going to watch a play, but it isn’t; it’s a concert by a reggae covers band interspersed with a PowerPoint presentation.

We are given a boarding pass as we enter the theatre, and the premise of the show is that we are passengers on the Empire Windrush. The show starts with a short Muppet-style video on the Windrush, then Ken Dread enters from the back of the auditorium to warm up the audience. The band enters and plays a medley of reggae hits, then the three solo singers enter followed by the narrator. Once everyone is on, there are thirteen performers on stage; they play well and they put on a good show.

The first half is a train wreck in terms of continuity between the narration and the musical numbers. The slaughter of the Arawaks, the first settlers in Jamaica, by the Spanish invaders is followed by “I’m In The Mood For Love”. The story of the Jamaican popular hero, Nanny Of The Maroons, is followed by “My Boy Lollipop”.

We learn that George V ordered the conscription of men from the British colonies to fight in the First World War. The Caribbean soldiers faced racism in the services and there were objections to black soldiers bearing arms. The next song is “Young, Gifted And Black”, which you could argue kind of works, but it is followed by an account of the devout Christianity which many of the first generation Windrush migrants shared and Desmond Dekker’s Rastafari-inspired song “Israelites”, which doesn’t. We learn about the Notting Hill Riots in 1958 and the next song is “Cherry Oh Baby”. The rise of British fascism is followed by “Brown Girl In The Ring”.

The second half starts with another video clip downloaded from the Internet; this time it is a 2023 Guardian interview with Alford Gardner, one of the last surviving Empire Windrush passengers. It’s a lovely interview and it sets the tone for a better second half. As the narration moves into more recent history, the political comment gets sharper and references to racism in current political debate and the threat of deportation to Rwanda get laughs and cheers from the audience.

Unfortunately, the commentary is still adrift from the music. The story of the thoroughly decent and law-abiding Alford Gardner is followed by Toots And The Maytals’ prison song, “54-46 That’s My Number”. We then get a reggae version of Adele’s “Hello” for no particular reason and an account of the rise of Rastafarianism is followed by the strict Pentecostal, and American, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”.

The last half an hour settles down with an extended lovers’ rock medley, a 2-Tone medley and a terrific gospel section. There was a sense of a shared experience between the artists on stage and their Anglo-Caribbean audience, and by the end, a lot of the audience were on their feet and dancing, but it took a while to get there.

The band is great and the potted Anglo-Caribbean history is sharp and informative but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. If you booked a Caribbean cruise and the JA Reggae Band were the on-board entertainment, you wouldn’t be disappointed, but if you go to see this show thinking you are going to see a piece of theatre, then you might be.

Reviewer: Andrew Cowie

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