The Gift, partly inspired by the remarkable true story of an orphaned African princess adopted by Queen Victoria in the 19th century, receives its world premiere this month at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre ahead of a UK tour. Time to get booking!
Janice Okoh‘s new play The Gift is the third show to emerge from Eclipse Theatre’s groundbreaking Revolution Mix movement, which is spearheading the largest-ever delivery of new Black British stories in theatre, film and radio. It premieres in Coventry, where it runs from 18 to 25 January 2020, with a press night on 21 January.
Set in both 1852 and the present day, the outrageously funny play explores themes of cross-racial adoption and cultural appropriation, partly inspired by the remarkable true story of Sarah Bonetta Davies, a young African girl who was adopted by Queen Victoria and raised in the Queen’s circles.
Her story is juxtaposed against that of a second Sarah – a middle-class black woman staying in a modern-day Cheshire village with her husband and small child. The two Sarahs’ timelines are brought together when they meet Queen Victoria for tea, in a gathering which promises to be anything but a regular tea party.
The Gift is and directed by Eclipse founder and former artistic director Dawn Walton, whose other recent credits include Black Men Walking, Red Dust Road and Salt. The premiere production is designed is Simon Kenny, with lighting by Johanna Town, and sound and music by Adrienne Quartly.
In the six-strong cast, Shannon Hayes plays Sarah Bonetta Davies. She’s joined by Dave Fishley (as James Davies), Rebecca Charles (Mrs Schoen / Harriet), Donna Berlin (Aggie / Sarah), Joanna Brookes (Harriet Waller / Queen Victoria) and Richard Teverson (Reverend Venn).
The Gift is the fourth national tour to come out of Eclipse Theatre’s Revolution Mix. It follows a second national tour of the critically acclaimed Black Men Walking, based on a real-life Black men’s walking group in Sheffield; and The Princess & The Hustler, inspired by the Bristol bus boycott of the 1960s.
Following Coventry, The Gift visits London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East (29 January-15 February), Oxford, Bury St Edmunds, Southampton and Scarborough.
Writer Janice Okoh won a Channel 4 Playwriting Award in 2017 for her debut play Egusi Soup. Speaking about The Gift, she said:
“I first heard the story of Sarah Bonetta Davies when I was at primary school, but for many years I wasn’t sure if it was actually true or not. As part of my research, I read personal diaries and journals kept by Queen Victoria and got a real insight into their incredible relationship.
“The theme of cross-racial adoption is a difficult subject to tackle, but the comedic elements of the play allow me to do this in a way that is playful, as well as thought-provoking. I also felt it was important to bring part of the story into the present day, as these are issues that are still relevant now.”
Stella Kanu, chair of Eclipse Theatre said: “Sarah’s story is an incredible part of Victorian history that has been widely ignored; which is too often the case with Black British stories. We look forward to sharing this incredible show with audiences across the UK and adding to the important body of work being created by Revolution Mix.”
About Eclipse Theatre
Eclipse Theatre is the foremost Black-led national touring company in the UK, at the vanguard of delivering diverse programming in theatre, film and radio across the country. It is their mission to use the Black British experience to create new work to enrich the stories shared with theatre audiences nationwide and to diversify those audiences (For Eclipse, Black includes anyone who has been marginalised for their race or ethnicity). Eclipse is a National Portfolio Funded Organisation with Arts Council England. Over the last four years, from its home in Sheffield, it has been developing and growing two unique national and international movements: Slate and Revolution Mix. Previous productions have included: A Raisin in the Sun (nominated for UK Theatre Best Touring Production), One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show and The Hounding of David Oluwale (nominated for TMA Best Director).
About the Belgrade Theatre
The Belgrade Theatre opened in 1958 as part of the rebuilding of Coventry after the Second World War. It received its name due to the gift of timber made by the Serbian capital, which was central to the construction of the new auditorium. It is the major arts and cultural facility in Coventry and is part of a group of organisations promoting engagement with the arts as Coventry prepares to be the 2021 City of Culture.
Prior to a UK tour, The Gift runs at Belgrade Theatre, Belgrade Square, Corporation St, Coventry CV1 1GS from 18 to 25 January 2020 with evening performances Mondays to Saturdays at 7.45pm (21 January at 7pm), matinees 23 and 25 January at 2.30pm. Tickets are priced from £8.50. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!