Belgrade Theatre B2 review: The Gift
The Gift, Belgrade B2, to Jan 25.
This is the latest Belgrade production from Revolution Mix, the movement spearheading the delivery of new black British stories. Following on from the highly successful Black Men Walking, this comic drama ranges over imperialism, cross–racial adoption and cultural appropriation - all with lashings of tea! The play opens in 1862 in Brighton. Sarah, an African girl, adopted by Queen Victoria and raised in the Royal circle, is due to return to Africa with her husband. Sarah (Shannon Hayes) is giving lessons in tea party etiquette to her hapless black servant Aggie (a stunning performance by Donna Berlin).
The first act suffered from poor sound - at times the stage seemed to swallow the actors' voices - and as other characters entered it was difficult to see where the play was going. But things took off in the second act. Fast forward 150 years to the present day, and Sarah (Donna Berlin again) and James (Dave Fishley), a black middle class couple living in a Cheshire village are paid a visit by neighbours with something to confess.
Rebecca Charles, as Harriet the well-meaning and ultra right-on white neighbour who was runner-up in Bake Off, lights up the play with a brilliant performance. Harriet ties herself in knots trying to empathise and "understand" her neighbours. Of course she actually understands very little and finds herself undercut by her completely politically incorrect husband Ben (Richard Teverson).
The play manages to explore race relations, cultural diversity, and what it's like to be in a minority - while being genuinely hilarious. It is an extraordinary achievement.
And the confession, when it comes, packs a powerful punch.
In the third act, Sarah is back from Africa and taking tea with Queen Victoria (the excellent Joanna Brookes). Brought up as white, how does she now see herself? How does Victoria, who epitomises Empire and white supremacy, see her?
Sarah now has an inner voice (Donna Berlin again) questioning her, urging her to challenge the Queen, goading her to make her stand, and pushing towards the play's climax.
This is a remarkable piece, despite the slow start, with some outstanding performances.
For tickets go to: http://www.belgrade.co.uk/
Please note: the production contains strong language and some nudity. Age recommendation is 15+