Dame Floella Benjamin’s award-winning and iconic book Coming to England is brought to life in this touching stage adaptation. It’s an inspirational story of ambition, tenacity, and victory. Award winning director Omar Okai has created a show full of magic, joy, hope and happiness.
The children’s book is a firm favourite by many, with wonderful illustrations captivating Floella’s own journey of emigration from Trinidad to London. These illustrations are brought to life in the simplistic yet colourful use of props and set design. Such as the rows of light up houses that create the streets of 1960’s London to the cabin style beach huts that reflect Floella’s Trinidadian home.
The show explores complex issues and themes of racism, overcoming adversity, and personal triumph. It is an inspiring tale, highlighting that ambition, motivation and hard work will take you far. The stage production captured these feelings brilliantly, instilling a real sense of community and passion. The musical numbers worked to both entertain and narrate the story, and the cast executed them wonderfully. Cast member Bree Smith portrayed the role of Marmie with such heartfelt emotion, as well as lighting up the stage in the musical numbers. A special mention must also go to Paula Kay who played the role of Floella and towards the end of the performance sang ‘Smile’ and her rendition bought tears to the eyes as she captivated the emotions and experiences of many so effortlessly. I was left feeling a little downcast by the injustice the show highlighted but also inspired that the future can be better.
Dame Floella Benjamin herself came up on stage and spoke so prolifically of her experiences. She highlighted that this is a story that hasn’t been told before with such truth and honesty. She would very much like for this to be touring all over the country as it is a show for children and families alike. It tells the tale of the Windrush generation but many of the themes are universal and particularly prominent, now more than ever.
Premiering this show in Birmingham could not have been more fitting as it is a city that celebrates its culture and diversity with pride. This is a show that reminds us all that by recognising the eclectic range of cultures that society has to offer helps the world become more progressive and understanding of the struggles people face.
This musical is a universally relevant piece, particularly resonant in the current climate. The audience is left with a sense of hope for the future. This true story is brought to life, cleverly capturing the endless possibilities life has to offer if only we can be bold enough to overcome challenges. I implore anybody to go and watch this show, not only because it is documenting an important part of history, but it evokes a plethora of emotions.
Coming to England continues at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 16th April 2022, https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/coming-to-england/
Reviewer: Priya Gupta
Reviewed: 4th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★