Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 1st November, 2022
This new play by Tonia Daley Campbell reveals the story of two women of colour, both princesses in their own right, who became goddaughters to Queen Victoria. As girls, they were spared the fate of their enslaved compatriots because of their royal heritage. In doing this, Victoria considered herself progressive.
The story is framed around a group of girls stumbling into a dusty room and discovering portraits of the two women. The women then come forward to introduce themselves. The time has come for their stories to be heard, having been excised from Victoria’s private journals.
Karina Holness shines as Sara Forbes Bonetta, proving herself a captivating storyteller. She is matched by Amrika Rani as Maharajah’s daughter turned suffragette, Sophia Duleep Singh. Appearing as an imperious and regal Queen Victoria, Skye Witney is perfectly authoritative while showing a human side to the woman who was the figurehead of the empire.
The lively bunch of girls are joined by a chorus of community performers. With the exception of Queen Victoria, no one leaves the stage. Modern commentary on historical events and attitudes provides a rich source of humour, and often what we hear is emotive and provocative. Director Lorna Laidlaw keeps everyone busy, so that scenes don’t become too static, but herein lies the problem of the piece.
There is a tendency to tell rather than to show. Events and incidents are delivered in reportage, as the leading players narrate their own lives rather than acting them out. The result is a wordy and informative evening that raises many important points, where didacticism replaces dramatic action.
There is a lot of ground covered. It’s not just the two women featured who have been erased from history. Rather than having Black History Month once a year, the entire education system needs a reboot. Above all, the play celebrates the contributions of black women, and it’s only right that these inspirational figures are acknowledged.
To repeat a quotation used in the play from Emmeline Pankhurst, “Deeds not words will change history.” Deeds, combined with words, make for a more effective drama!
☆ ☆ ☆