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A man on a mission

SOMETHING TO SAY: Victor Richards, left, has been involved in performances of his poem, Streets Paved With Gold, for 25 years – and is now bringing it to the Midlands as part of celebrations to commemorate 70 years since the SS Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury docks

A ONE-man theatre production that has been touring the UK and international venues for 25 years, is coming back to the West Midlands later this month.

Streets Paved with Gold, written and performed by entertainer/activist Victor Richards, will be on at the ACE Dance Space in Birmingham today (June 16).

It's return is part of a season of entertainment and educational events being held across the region to mark the 70th anniversary of the historic arrival of the SS Empire Windrush in British waters at Tilbury Docks in Essex.

The hour-long production is a poetic and nostalgic journey that charts some of the experiences of what life was like for many of the new post-Second World War arrivals from the Caribbean.

The experiences are presented through Augustus Cleveland Johnson, an older man who, in preparing to leave England to return to his native Barbados, reflects back on his bittersweet work and social life, in the company of props like an old fashioned grip, an analogue telephone and family heirlooms.

The play has gained critical acclaim during its 25-year run. “The production is fantastic and
it captures the spirit of the Windrush generation,” said historian and campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE.

PICTURED: Patrick Vernon OBE

“There’s a degree of authenticity about being in Britain for 60- plus years and not being bitter about it, despite the racism and the colour bar. This production reminds us that we are British but we are Caribbean at the same time.”

Vernon, whose recent work has included campaigning against the awarding of a posthumous commemorative plaque to Enoch Powell MP, has been offered an honorary degree by Wolverhampton University for his work on African and Caribbean family genealogy and identity.

He added: "I hope Victor can use this play in Parliament so that MPs can see it. “Maybe Theresa May can learn something.” Streets Paved with Gold is on an extended UK tour, that will see it visit Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds and London, before heading overseas.

It is one of a trio of shows that Victor has written and performs. His other two productions are Return to the Caribbean and Children of the First Generation.

The latter, scheduled for a performance on July 12 at the Mango Lounge, Birmingham, will see the narrative picked up by Augustus’ English-born son, Granville, as he returns to England after spending 15 years in his father’s birth land, Barbados.

The trio of productions have inspired an anthology of poems on CD and printed forms. The Birmingham performances are being put on in collaboration with the Caribbean Legacy Project (CLP) to mark the anniversary of the Windrush’s arrival. Dave Smith, CLP’s lead coordinator, said: “We are coordinating efforts with (Victor’s company) V Jay Productions to provide a unique ‘edutainment’ platform that engages a national and international audience.

“Even without the political debate going on around Windrush, we are working hard to show how we can take the debate from the political arena and empower the community to demonstrate to everyday folks in the UK, the immense value and contribution the Caribbean Island Nation gave to Britain when she was on her knees.

“I would like to encourage the people of Birmingham to support our event so that we can galvanise the Caribbean community to build that process where we take ownership of acknowledging and celebrating our contributions, so that people around the world hear of the value we brought to Britain.”

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