Think of some of the longest running theatre productions, and what immediately springs to mind may be some of London’s current West End giants, like ‘Les Misérables’ (33 years), ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (32 years), ‘The Lion King’ (18 years), ‘Mamma Mia’ (19 years) and ‘Thriller Live’ (9 years). While I lift my hats to them for their undisputed excellence, I think the real kudos goes to ‘Streets Paved with Gold’, a one-man production that has been touring the UK and international venues for 25 years.
Written and performed by Victor Richards, ‘Streets Paved with Gold’ recently kicked off its 2018 UK and international tour schedule with a performance at the Mango Lounge in Birmingham. The production is a poetic and nostalgic journey that charts some of the experiences of what life was like for the typical Caribbean arrival in Britain, going back 70 years when the SS Empire Windrush made its historic landing at Tilbury Docks in Essex. The experiences are presented through the eyes of Augustus Cleveland Johnson, an older man, who is preparing to leave England to return to his birth land, Barbados.
Without the backing of huge budgets – such as the West End shows have access to – Victor has successfully managed, in the hour-long production, to draw audiences into his world as he traces his memories back to the early years, reminiscing about his beloved wife (now deceased), and experiences from his working and social life. The props are simple but highly effective: the old-fashioned grip; an analogue telephone; family photos of his wedding day, and favourites that many Caribbean homes displayed, such as Martin Luther King and a much younger Queen Elizabeth II.
One senses the pathos as Augustus potters about, coughing intermittently while he sorts through his belongings and attempts to pack things in preparation for his return home. There is a sense of loss as he comes across one of his wife’s favourite dresses, and tells the audience the story of how they met. It’s almost as if he is closing a notable chapter of his life; the sadness is very real, watching him contemplate that he will be moving on to embrace a future without her. It highlights the finiteness and fragility of our existence. It is not just another story; it becomes the audience’s story, no doubt mirroring the experiences of so many we probably know in our own communities in this country. The production makes one feel…think…reminisce… and, perhaps, shed a tear…
The production is not without its laughs, however. This too reflects the Caribbean experience amidst the hardships of life in Britain: no matter what, Caribbean people are noted for their resilience and ability to create pockets of joy in the harshest of situations. This is the stuff of memories, and Victor’s production has done a superb job at giving audiences, young and old, the opportunity to take a trip back in time to gaze upon those memories.
‘Streets Paved with Gold’ is one of a trio of shows that Victor has written and performs. It will be showing again in Birmingham on Saturday, June 16 at the ACE Dance Space. His other two productions are ‘Return to the Caribbean’ and ‘Children of the First Generation’. The latter is scheduled for a performance on Thursday, July 12 at the Mango Lounge, Birmingham. ‘Children of the First Generation’ focuses on Augustus’ son, Granville, who, born in England, decides to return to England with his wife and children after spending 15 years in his father’s birth land, Barbados. The Birmingham performances are being held in collaboration with the Caribbean Legacy Project to mark the 70th anniversary of Windrush.
Dave Smith, Lead Coordinator of the Caribbean Legacy Project, said: “We are coordinating efforts with V Jay Productions to provide a unique edutainment platform that engages a national and an international audience.”
Victor was a British Urban Film Festival (BUFF) Nominee for his spoken word music album, ‘Illusion – Streets Paved with Gold’.
For further information visit www vjtheatre.net. Ticket bookings, telephone 07786 853 232, 07944 320 204 or 0121 554 4575; book through Eventbrite,
or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Other performances are scheduled for cities across the UK