The Princess and The Hustler by Chinonyerem Odimba – Eclipse Theatre Company – New Wolsey Theatre then touring
“The performance kept me captivated throughout, teaching me all about black culture”
Written by Chinonyerem Odimba, this production was based in 1960’s Bristol, where a black family is fighting for normality; which was never guaranteed.
Living with her mum, Mavis (Donna Berlin) and her Brother, Wendell ‘Junior’ (Fode Simbo) the future seems very bright for naive 10 year old Phyllis ‘Princess’ James (Kudzai Sitima). But when her long lost father, ‘The Hustler’ (Seun Shote), and his angelic little girl Lorna (Emily Burnett) enter her life everything changes. A new way of life is introduced to her and the harsh reality of being black in 1960s England starts to kick in. Nothing would be the same again , but Princess wasn’t to understand or know why yet.
Good friends of the family Margot (Jade Yourell) and Leon (Romayne Andrews) do their best to try and keep peace as this whole drama unfolds, but trying too hard might cause arguments.
The story dives deep into the truth of racial abuse in the past and how many people, old or young, were affected. Following this, the audiences’ knowledge on the subject was broadened in an engaging and almost humorous way. The performance was beautifully played and performed with great emotion.
All characters were played to perfection, but one in particular stand out was Mavis, ( Donna Berlin). She was the figure of a typical 60s mother, this really transported the audience back into that time zone. Her ‘want-not waste-not’ attitude was key at the start to persuade us how things were done then. She was strict but fair, just doing the best she could for her children. With the world being like it was, Mavis has the attitude to overcome it and the actor played her role to perfection. I can imagine it being quite a task as well; Mavis’s personality doesn’t compare to many in the present day.
Furthermore, another character who stood out was Wendell ‘Junior’ who was acted by Fode Simbo. Junior seemed to be very switched on, being cautious with every move. The actor really helped bring this character to life, especially when his relationships with certain people evolved throughout the play. Not one stumble or mutter was pronounced and he had a cheeky charm about him. His charisma wooed the audience
The staging played a huge part in making this production exquisitely engaging. The way the scene moved from the warm cosy feel of the apartment to the cold, harshness of the docks really enhanced the production. It was very important how the docks were portrayed, it showed how hard it was for black people to get a job; so they were forced to ‘hustle’ in places as grim as the Docks. It really reached the audiences hearts. Furthermore, the brightening and dimming of the stage lights added extra effect; taking us from in and out of Princesses’ home. This smooth transition was interesting, nothing I’ve seen before!
The genre of the play is hard to call. Though there are some funny lines and scenes alike, the whole message put across is extremely serious. I feel the topic was addressed appropriately having, a balance between too stern and too humorous which was executed well.
In my opinion, this is one of the most well thought-out, engaging performances I’ve witnessed. You really couldn’t take your eyes off what was unfolding before you. The drama was constant and the many plot twists kept you guessing until the very end. The way each actor delivered their speech was very professional, especially the people putting on an accent. Although the structure and choreography were classy, I found it hard to follow how much time had passed after each scene. Sometimes a few weeks had gone by and sometimes a few hours (so I think!). I don’t know if it was deliberate or not but it is the only thing I can point out from a superb performance. I think the age restriction of 14+ is a fair say, though some swear words were used, all were perfectly in context of the era and substance of the play. Classy piece of theatre, Hull you are in for a treat!
By Freddie Adams EBHS