Third black production from Eclipse premières in Coventry

Published: 27 November 2019
Reporter: Steve Orme

The cast of The Gift

Eclipse Theatre and Coventry’s Belgrade have announced the cast for their co-production of Janice Okoh’s The Gift, the third show to emerge from Eclipse’s Revolution Mix movement.

Shannon Hayes will play Sarah Bonetta Davies. Dave Fishley will take the role of James Davies while Rebecca Charles will be Mrs Schoen and Harriet.

Donna Berlin, who was Mavis in Chinonyerem Odimba’s The Princess and the Hustler for Bristol Old Vic and Hull Truck earlier in 2019, takes part in her second Eclipse production in the roles of Aggie and Sarah. Joanna Brookes plays Harriet Waller and Queen Victoria and Richard Teverson takes the role of Reverend Venn.

Revolution Mix is a movement spearheading the largest national delivery of new black British productions in theatre, film and radio.

The Gift, set in both 1852 and the present day, explores themes of cross-racial adoption and cultural appropriation, partly inspired by the true story of Sarah Bonetta Davies, a young African girl who was adopted by Queen Victoria.

Her story is juxtaposed with 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.

Writer Janice Okoh 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. 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’s playful as well as thought-provoking. I also felt it was important to bring part of the story into the present day because these are issues that are still relevant now.”

Dawn Walton, who directed Testament’s Black Men Walking for Eclipse Theatre, directs. Designer is Simon Kenny, lighting design is by Johanna Town and Adrienne Quartly is composer and sound designer.

The Gift premières at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from 18 until 25 January 2020 before touring to Theatre Royal Stratford East, The North Wall, Oxford, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, NST City, Southampton and Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough until 11 March.