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Criterion Theatre, The Gift, Act 2, Review

*Act Two of The Gift by Janice Okrah at the Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, one night only. It is hoped that all three acts will be performed again on Monday 14th, Tuesday 15th and Saturday 19th of February.

Those of us who couldn’t be there on the opening night saw a somewhat abridged version of a play with three acts. Only Act Two for us after Covid had plagued enough of the cast into self-isolation to require the abandonment of the first and final acts.

Not much more than an hour’s drama then. Was it worth it? Well, it certainly whetted my appetite for seeing the whole play, if and when we’re allowed.

For now let’s join James and Sarah, a middle-class black couple who’ve recently moved from Chelsea to Cheshire. Needless to say, they’re not short of a few quid. But why is there a photograph of a little white girl on a lengthy book case crammed with leather-bound tomes?

Their adopted daughter, apparently, and her name is Victoria. A connection there with Act One, set over a century and a half earlier when Queen Victoria adopted a young, black African princess orphaned in Nigeria and donated to her by a naval captain. The girl’s name was Sarah.

Act Two opens with a grown-up, 21st-century Sarah, played by Nyasha Daley, on the phone to a work colleague and all too evidently pretending to be excited by the prospect of visiting Nigeria for business purposes.

It ends with the same, all too evidently troubled Sarah removing her jumper and jeans before heading for the front door while James is talking to her from the kitchen.

In between is an amusing if sometimes excruciatingly tense conversation with new neighbours, Harriet and Ben from “number nine”, who’ve invited themselves in for tea.

Herbal tea, if you please, and gluten-free muffins baked by Harriet herself, an accomplished pastry chef. Anne-Marie Greene captures perfectly the effusive fulsomeness of a white woman trying too hard to appear politically correct.

One of the themes of Janice Okah’s three-act play is how racism has changed since the imperialist days of the 1860s. And how it hasn’t.

Despite Harriet’s gushing efforts, the conversation eventually deteriorates into confrontation and a shocking revelation. It explains why James, played with seemingly effortless aplomb by Maxveal Mclaren, has his right arm in a sling.

What it doesn’t explain is why Sarah strips down to bra and pants. All will be revealed, as it were, if and when we’re allowed to see acts one and three as well. See dates above and keep your fingers crossed.


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