Great Britain

Floella Benjamin’s childhood memoir to become stage play

Former children’s television presenter Floella Benjamin’s childhood memoir describing her journey to England and the racism and intolerance her family faced is to become a stage play.

The Birmingham Rep announced that the world premiere of an adaptation of Benjamin’s book Coming to England would be a highlight of a forthcoming season marking the theatre’s 50 years in its current home on Centenary Square.

Benjamin, known to generations of British children because of her years presenting BBC’s Play School, was part of the Windrush generation, travelling to England as a child from Trinidad in 1960.

Sean Foley, artistic director of the Rep, said he had been talking to Benjamin about helping the theatre with its youth work. Benjamin had mentioned plans for a stage play of her book.

“She asked: ‘Would you like to do it at Birmingham?’ To which I said: ‘Are you kidding me? Of course!’

“It is going to be a wonderful, big open-hearted family show without shying away from the difficult features and chapters of her life … her experiences of racism growing up, her struggle to become who she is today.”

Since 2010 Benjamin has been Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham, the London suburb where she arrived aged 10, after which she experienced racism on a daily basis.

After being made a peer she visited her parents’ graves, she told the Guardian in 2019. “I said: ‘Marmie, Dardie, I’m going to claim Beckenham for you!’”

The memoir has been adapted by David Wood, and Foley said he hoped the show would be a celebratory one.

Foley was announcing what is effectively his first season, despite being appointed to the job in the middle of 2019.

Other highlights include a new musical based on the Henry Fielding novel A History of Tom Jones, featuring the music of the present day Tom Jones; and the 25th anniversary revival of a play that premiered in the Rep’s studio – Ayub Khan Din’s East is East.

Foley will direct the first revival of a play he co-wrote and starred in the West End and Broadway, The Play What I Wrote. A tribute to Morecambe and Wise, the shows featured cameo appearances by the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Dawn French, Sting, Ewan McGregor, Charles Dance and Jerry Hall.

“There are a tremendous amount of brilliant new stars who will want to try their hand,” said Foley.

“I think there is a sense abroad of wouldn’t it be great if our biggest TV and film stars came and helped out theatre and this is the easiest way to do it. You don’t have to sign up to do a whole play, you can come and do a couple of nights. You basically come on and everyone loves you, which is, as we know, everything an actor wants.”

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