Princess & The Hustler @ Bristol Old Vic ★★★★

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By Alina Young, third year English

A touching family drama against the backdrop of 1960s Bristol race relations... Epigram reviews Eclipse Theatre Company's new play Princess & The Hustler ★★★★

In an undeniably heartwarming new production, Princess & The Hustler, Eclipse Theatre Company masterfully blend familial dynamics with the political changes of the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott.

As the second national tour of their Revolution Mix movement – a formidable force bringing new Black British stories to the stage – the production was keenly anticipated, and indeed brilliantly received by a diverse audience.

"the immensely watchable humour is undercut by sudden family changes and the race tensions of '60s Bristol"

The play centres on Phyllis ‘Princess’ James (Kudzai Sitima), a cheeky and utterly lovable 10-year-old as she learns about herself and her circumstances. Sitima's performance is stunningly authentic, combining that particular childhood joy with insecurity. Against the backdrop of nostalgically kitsch '60s decor, designed with wonderful detail by Simon Kenny, we’re shown her desire to feel beautiful despite society’s standards of what ‘beautiful’ means.

This mix of joy and instability resonates throughout the play - the immensely watchable humour is undercut by sudden family changes and the race tensions of '60s Bristol. Yet, Princess & The Hustler manages to maintain balance; writer Chinonyerem Odimba observes acutely how social structures function within the background of everyday life. The tone is unsensational, and therefore deeply moving. It manages to touch on a range of race relations – although sometimes too briefly – but always with heart.

A truly talented cast convey a relatable family environment with careful nuance. Special credit must be given to Donna Berlin in her role as Mavis, Princess’s mother. Her passion, hard work and fiercely loving nature creates a stirring picture of maternal strength. The network of female relationships, particularly with her fabulously Bristolian, white neighbour Margot (Jade Yourell), poignantly expresses the importance of mutual support as well as personal resilience.

It’s clear that this production was created, from conception to execution, with an enormous amount of soul. By making the domestic relevant to its historical moment, it provides a lesser-told perspective for a contemporary audience. Princess & The Hustler is important new writing, but maintains its feeling and pride. Overwhelmingly, though, the feeling is joyous: as an elderly Bristolian audience member exclaimed, “I could have watched for another two hours!”

Donna-Berlin-as-Mavis-and-Seun-Shote-as-Wendell-Sr-in-Princess---The-Hustler--Bristol-Old-Vic---TheOtherRichard
Donna Berlin as Mavis and Seun Shote as Wendell Sr, Eclipse Theatre Company

Princess & The Hustler will continue to tour the UK until the 13th April.

★★★★

(Featured image credits: Eclipse Theatre Company)


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