Everything Caribbean

Michael Abbensetts obituary


Playwright who explored the themes of race and identity in his stage and television work, most notably in the BBC drama series Empire Road

The legacy of the colonial experience in the Caribbean, with its confusions of racial identity and mixed-blessing migration to Britain in the 1960s, was a potent theme in the stage and television work of Michael Abbensetts, who has died aged 78. In his most personal play, El Dorado (1984), a white Caribbean matriarch plans to pass on the family mansion to her black grandson, a doctor, but the grandson knows about slaves buried under the floorboards and decides to make his own life and contribution as a GP in London.

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Abbensetts, who was born in Guyana and took British citizenship in 1974, wrote honestly of what he knew – and he knew a lot – about roots, racial tensions, mixed-race relationships, cultural power games, tolerance and integration. With his immediate British Caribbean playwriting contemporaries, Trevor Rhone and Mustapha Matura, he channelled this material into memorable drama, not laugh-a-minute comedy, though he could be funny and ironic. And with the drama series Empire Road on BBC television in 1978, he was the first black British playwright to be so commissioned. For all its talk of diversity, the BBC has produced little by way of black television drama since that time.

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