Rodreguez King-Dorset’s drama about racism and the Windrush scandal first took life as a 20-minute play for children, written in just four weeks. It was staged at the National Maritime Museum to mark Windrush Day on 22 June last year, and followed a period of research in the museum’s archives on Windrush-era landing cards and photographs of the islands that this generation left behind for a new life in Britain.
That play has now morphed into a hard-hitting, full-scale production. Written, directed and performed by King-Dorset at Watermans arts centre, Windrush Secret is set in 2018 and features three men: a white far-right party leader, a Black Caribbean diplomat and a white Home Office official. On the same day, they each rouse, rally and mobilise an invisible audience for their political causes.
Marcus Ramsay is the diplomat, speaking before 100,000 people at Parliament Square, in protest against then home secretary Theresa May’s deportation policy of Caribbean Brits. The British empire has “Blackness written at its very core,” he says, and gives us a brief history on the contributions of Caribbean men and women in the British army during the second world war, and then to subsequently rebuilding the nation, postwar.
Trevor Smith, meanwhile, speaks to a crowd of 300 in a Woolwich social club, variously rabble-rousing, glugging whisky and falling into rages about the “immigration crisis.” He uses the N-word, speaks admiringly of slavery, Hitler, Oswald Mosley, quotes Boris Johnson’s offensive descriptions of Black people and claims “White Lives Matter too”.
The third man, educated at Eton and Oxford, speaks before a House of Commons select committee of six people. Immigration enforcement is part of the job, he says, and he defends the government’s decision to deport those British Caribbeans who cannot prove their immigration status, although he acknowledges how documentation was destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.
King-Dorset plays all three, assuming accents, jackets and verbal tics, and switching between earnestness and savage satire. It is an energetic and passionate performance, taking us through centuries of history and pulling no punches in its portrayal of racist rage and proselytising.
Though the three men are fictional, the material on the select committee hearing was sourced from official documents and newspaper articles. King-Dorset also carried out research into far-right ideology, meeting with a group of former extremists. “I wanted to know more about their thought process and spoke to a woman who said that she came from a part of the country that was remote, that [she was influenced by] her peers, that it was an area which was predominantly white working class.”
Although the woman retreated after an initial conversation, King-Dorset did glean how difficult it was to leave such an organisation – any departure, he says, was a long process because of the risk to “that organisation being exposed”.
King-Dorset’s purpose, in part, was to examine the process that allows “you to dehumanise another human being in order to legitimise an act, or a policy”. There is a secret at the heart of the show that eventually leads the far-right character to question himself, and in this King-Dorset wanted to show what happens when “you realise that everything you have believed in was wrong – where do you go from there?”
The play has been staged in various London venues including the Tabernacle and the Chelsea theatre. King-Dorset says there has been an incredible – visceral – reaction to the show, especially from Windrush-era female audience members. This has brought poignant moments of connection, he says, with “flashbacks to hearing and ‘seeing’ my own mother before she sadly passed away”.