gift cast 

The Gift

Coventry Belgrade B2


This complex play covers a vast but nourishing soup of issues that impact relationships between cultures, races and people in the modern world.

But it kicks off, quite literally, and finishes with the impact of Victorian manners and morality in colonising Africa. Tea, and manners surrounding it, link throughout.

Two Sarahs separated by many generations, 1862 and to the present day, are both faced with situations that are informed by racism.

Sarah Bonetta Davies (Shannon Hayes), living in Brighton in 1862, newly married to James, a self-made man she doesn’t love (Dave Fishley) is the black adopted daughter of Queen Victoria, brought up as a princess, who has been ‘rescued’, ‘saved’ but basically kidnapped and brought to England.

She is ‘The Gift’, reluctantly going back to Nigeria with plans to open an etiquette academy for African girls. She is teaching her new and very scared – and funny – maid Aggie (Donna Berlin).

Mrs Schoen, her ‘mother’ (Rebecca Charles) and two unexpected guests arrive; Rev. Venn (Richard Teversen) and Harriet Waller (Joanna Brookes). Mrs Waller repeatedly shocks the rest of the party with her questions and statements to which Sarah must respond.


Shannon Hayes as Sarah Bonetta Davies, Joanna Brookes as Queen Victoria and Donna Berlin as Modern Sarah. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

Modern Sarah (Donna Berlin) lives in Cheshire with husband James (Dave Fishley) and is a successful structural engineer reluctantly going to Nigeria to manage a new project. They have an adopted white child and a neighbour has called the police because the child is crying.

The police attack the father; a professor and antique dealer who has discovered an old cache of letters pertaining to adopted Sarah. Sadly, this sub-plot never develops. Neighbours Harriet and Ben arrive bearing gifts of muffins. But Harriet is the one who called the police. Her attempts at political correctness are funny as she ties herself in knots trying to say the right thing but inevitably the meeting ends badly.

The third act is rather confusing but essentially both Sarahs question Queen Victoria (Joanna Brookes - brilliant) about adopted Sarah’s ‘miserable’ childhood. Suffice it to say, it ends unexpectedly in bloodshed.

The play uses unexpected guests to propel the story forward. I have to say that I felt like an unexpected guest myself since there was so much to digest that was outside my own experience. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and there was plenty to consider. Written by Janice Okah and directed by Dawn Walton, The Gift keeps on giving until 25-01-20.

Jane Howard


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