A Family from Windrush to the Pandemic
“The law has been my life for over thirty years but even now, black barristers make up just over one percent of QCs at the bar. I have lost count the amount of times I have been mistaken for a defendant.”
Roy Williams’s latest play The Fellowship examines the three generations of Black Britishers from the Caribbean since Windrush and the people who came to live and work in the UK. The only person from the Windrushe generation is Dawn (Cherelle Skeete) and Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn)’s mother whom we never see alive. She is in her nineties and being cared for by Dawn.
I remember the concerns shown in 1970s and 1980s for the first generation born in Britain, who didn’t have the secure roots of their parents, who had grown up in the West Indies and chosen to come here. Dawn and Marcia are from that first generation born here. Marcia is a high powered barrister, a QC, mixing in government circles. Her sister is less high achieving and caring for her mother but she has a family. One of her sons Daryl has been killed by a white gang. The immediate difference between these sisters is in their language. Marcia talks in an upper class English accent whereas Dawn sprinkles her dialogue with Jamaican patois and slang.
There is a difference too in attitude as Dawn clearly identifies as black and angry about white privilege and power. Marcia has had difficulties as well but she has made it career wise and is more accepting. Some of the focus of Dawn’s anger is about her son Daryl who was murdered and towards the white girl Simone (Rosie Day) whom Dawn holds responsible for his murder.
Dawn’s musician husband Tony (Trevor Laird) is very suspicious of white people and reminds everyone of the incidents of police killing black people. Dawn and Marcia mention their being on the front line at the 1985 Brixton riots after a black woman was shot and the Broadwater Farm riots, after a woman died of a heart attack in a police raid, and the subsequent stabbing of a policeman. Roy Williams’s play is set in 2019, a year before the killing of George Floyd inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. Now Marcia accuses Dawn of being a mouthpiece for Tony but she denies it.
Dawn’s guilty secret is her Amazon playlist of popular “white” music, The Bee Gees and Take That play when she and Marcia relive their youth with dance and have fun. The sisters grew apart after Marcia didn’t go to support her sister before Daryl’s funeral. The playwright has grasped an incident that led to a family not communicating for years because of resentment and guilt.
Libby Watson’s set is crowned and floored by light halos which circle the actors. Paulette Randall directs with confidence.
I am finding it hard to get a handle on The Fellowship despite having lived among each of these three generations. What the play has done is make me reflect on my past. I was in Notting Hill – Ladbroke Grove in the late sixties and saw the beginnings of Carnival which we loved and the planning of tower blocks on the Lancaster West Estate which we fought against. Small terraced houses in streets like Ruston Close, the new name for Rillington Place, were replaced with towers, one of which was Grenfell Tower.
In the 1970s I worked in the Inner London Careers Service in Hackney with school leavers and those going to university. Later in that decade I set up a college course in Lewisham called Which Job? which took some students whose parents had left them behind in the West Indies and came at 18, finding it impossible to get into apprenticeships because of age related pay. Then I taught on the Preparatory courses for adults who wanted to progress without O or A levels onto government funded professional trade training in engineering, motor vehicle repair, social work and nursing.
In the 2000s I worked at the University of Greenwich where young British born black students were getting degrees and huge student debt but had prospects.
This complex play shows the progress that has been made through the future for Dawn’s son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) and his white street girlfriend Simone, whose name Dawn refuses to utter for most of the play. Marcia’s career is in shatters after she agrees unwisely to help her MP boyfriend but she has proved that a black women can take silk. I suspect now her future will be to help at a law centre or the like as a volunteer. Dawn has a future as a grandmother seeing the next generation blossom.
The production lost Lucy Vandi who was to play Dawn to illness and Cherelle Skeete has taken this large part at short notice and needs a script on occasion but does very well.
Written by Roy Williams
Directed by Paulette Randall
Director: Paulette Randall
Designer: Libby Watson
Lighting Designer: Mark Jonathan
Sound Designer: Delroy Murray
Fight Director: Philip d’Orléans
Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Booking to 23rd July 2022
London NW3 3EU
Phone: 020 7722 9301
Tube: Swiss Cottage
by Lizzie Loveridge at
on 28th June 2022