I am astounded really, to think about the fact that racial discrimination was so prevalent in the UK as recently as only 50+ Years ago. It is so easy to look at other countries history and be shocked – judging them for their oppression and discrimination towards others because of the colour of their skin. Or, in contrast to be comfortable and laid back in this day and age with a hope that we are far more diverse and accepting of others, and that we have moved on from “all of that”.
But the reality is that many individuals and families struggled immensely right here in Britain too.
They fought to be accepted and have equality.
They fought and protested to have the life they envisioned for themselves and their children.
And they fought and protested all because of the colour of their skin.
Last night we were reminded of this struggle and a significant moment in our own history when were transported back to 1963 Bristol through the wonderful play – “Princess & The Hustler” that we caught at Hull truck Theatre. Set against the backdrop of one of the most pivotal moments of the Black British civil rights movement – the 1963 Bristol bus boycott – it was both a profound and incredibly funny play to watch.
Princess and the Hustler is an inspiring play co-produced with Eclipse Theatre Company and Bristol Old Vic, and is born out of their mission to use the Black British experience to create enriching stories for audiences whilst diversifying them – and they did a fantastic job with this one!
As I say, Princess and the Hustler is set against the backdrop of one of the most pivotal moments of the Black British civil rights movement – the 1963 Bristol bus boycott, and tells the story of Princess, a cheeky 10-year-old with a plan to win the Weston-Super-Mare Beauty Contest. Whilst Princess explores what it really means to be black and beautiful, her brother, a budding photographer, represents the beginning of an incredibly important moment in the documentation of Black British culture.
We follow the lives of a black family living in a flat in Bristol with their fair share of problems and relational issues that they are trying to figure out together, all whilst being very much wrapped up in the current affairs of the bus boycott and a fight for more equality.
It opens with a scene that invites us into the playworld and imagination of young Princess. She is wrapped up in the joy and dream of becoming the winner of a beauty contest, and her naivety and enthusiasm is charming. But this child’s play in the cupboard is quickly interrupted and she is yanked into her reality when family dilemmas step in and her growing awareness of personal circumstance surfaces.
I adored Mavis – Princesses “mummy”. She had such a presence and humour about her and Donna Berlin was excellent throughout. I loved her “God fearing” parenting tactics and how these transpired into governing the choices (and arguments) of her children – Princess and Junior! I loved the mum stare she had down to a T and I loved her strong willed and powerful nature. Their family dynamics were brilliant and encompassed sibling rivalry wonderfully.
I cannot being to imagine the pain of living in a foreign land with widespread discrimination. In a place where you are seen as a second class citizen and even beaten up with a chain for trying to do good and stand for change. I am grateful for Princess and The Hustler for telling the remarkable tale of the battles of those that lived in Britain back in the 50’s and 60’s and their fight for acceptance in society. It is a profound reminder that for the individual, the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory!
Princess and The Hustler is very much a laugh out loud funny play, but it is also a reminder of a difficult time and a civil rights movement that took place right here in the UK. It is a reminder that every family faces struggles and parenting is hard – especially with discrimination and marriage turbulence in the mix! But I also loved that it was a reminder to us that with all of this that a person can face, we each have the power and freedom of being who we want to and we can be all that is beautiful in the world – whatever our skin colour.
I would highly recommend seeing this brave and funny story – we thoroughly enjoyed it.
This production will run at Hull Truck Theatre from Tuesday 5 until Saturday 16 March and ticket prices range from £10 to £24.50.
*Thank you to Hull Truck for inviting us along to review this