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Mediating the Windrush Children

Caryl Phillips and Horace Ové

Josiane Ranguin

Mediating the Windrush Children analyses three plays by St. Kitts-born British playwright Caryl Phillips: Strange Fruit (1981), Where There is Darkness (1982), The Shelter (1984), and a film by Trinidadian-British filmmaker Horace Ové, Pressure (1975), as artistic depictions of the experience of the Windrush generation, a term that refers to the Anglo-Caribbean islanders recruited to help rebuild Britain in the aftermath of World War II. These works are vibrant calls to resist visuality as an authoritarian medium, and tools of resilience. The revival of Caryl Phillips’s Strange Fruit at the Bush Theatre, and ‘Get Up, Stand Up Now’, the celebration of Black British artists, among whom Horace Ové, took place in London during the summer of 2019. Both events put into perspective the 2018 Windrush scandal that saw members of the Windrush generation denied their rights as British citizens.
Mediating the Windrush Children should appeal to students engaged in drama studies, film studies and postcolonial literature, as well as members of the general public interested in artistic works focusing on the Windrush generation.

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The Shelter (1984) is the only one of Caryl Phillips’s first three plays to open on an introduction where he delineates his credo and motivations as a writer. He further notes that what made this play an arduous task was the ‘burden of responsibility’ it imposed:

I stopped, feeling I was shouldering an additional burden to those I was used to, such as form, characterisation, dialogue and so on—a burden that was making things difficult, and might ultimately make it impossible, for me, to continue this game. This supplementary burden I named ‘responsibility.’ (7)

The Shelter offers an insider’s view of a dysfunctional Anglo-Caribbean family at a time when social and racial tensions in Britain had reached a peak. For Phillips, then, writing is a ‘frightening’ game because of the worries it provokes and ‘the accustomed panic’ (7) that goes along with it. The possible consequences of literary representations are a cause for concern, while his first responsibility as a writer is to remain faithful to the truth of the material:

[…] but I, perhaps motivated by the luxury of inexperience, had always felt that my only responsibility was to locate the truth in whatever piece I was working on, live with it, sleep with it, and be responsible to that truth alone. After all, I could see no ←1 | 2→other way of surviving as a sane individual given the often cruel contradiction of the society I had chosen to live...

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