RUSH bills itself as a show that ‘follows the exciting development and influence of Reggae music and how it took the world by storm’. In truth it is more than that, especially in the first half when, in between the JA Reggae Band’s renditions of classics of the genre, comedian John Simmit, acting as the master of ceremonies, weaves together the narrative of the people that travelled from the West Indies to England on the SS Windrush and how they came to influence British culture.
Whilst he is at pains to make it clear that he is not a musician, RUSH is at its best when it utilises Simmit. His introductions to the songs, and the history lessons he provides, done with his trademark deadpan delivery, serve as both comic relief and, on occasion, a sharp political critique. Whether it is correcting the narrative that slaves were taken from Africa – “this is not true; people were taken from Africa and were made into slaves” – or the parallels that he draws between modern discourse and that which surrounded the Windrush generation when they first came to England, Simmit manages to be the embodiment of reggae music; an agent of change masquerading as light entertainment. The second half was still enjoyable, but with fewer interjections from Simmit, it lost the delicate balance of musical spectacle, nostalgia act and cultural critique that it had managed prior to the interval.
Talking to audience members at the interval and after the show, it was clear that they felt well-serviced by the show. Many had remembered the songs from their youth and needed little persuasion to get out of their seats and dance around the theatre. The JA Reggae Band are excellent, a ten-piece band that in perfect sync. They also clearly enjoy the music that they play and the sight of the horns section joining the conga line around the Hull Truck Theatre is one that will stay in the memory of all that attended. Ika Crossfield, the lead singer, is blessed with a versatile and powerful voice; he also has a magnetic charisma that cannot be taught. His energy never wavered and his commitment to the show was absolute, dancing with audience members, encouraging people to get out of their seats and doing all he could to ensure the audience had a great time.
He was ably supported by Miss Janice whose voice was the perfect accompaniment to Crossfield’s and some of the best moments in the show happened when she sang solo. On a stage full of people dressed well, her outfits were almost as big a scene stealer as her voice and added to the celebratory atmosphere.
In my notes from the show I wrote “this isn’t theatre – it’s a party”. I was partly right. The second half is a party, an exhilarating journey through the reggae music of the 70s and 80s. And it’s very good. The first half is more – a commentary on the contribution to British culture by the Windrush generation and timely reminder that this country is tangibly improved by the cultures that have made a home here. RUSH is touring the country until November and I’d strongly recommend seeking it out.