The Yoruba are the largest ethnicity in south-west Nigeria; founders of some of the great city states of medieval Africa, as well as producers of some of the greatest art. In modern times, the culture has given us such figures as Wole Soyinka, Femi Kuti, Sunny Ade and Anjelique Kidjo. Now, going back to 1885, the Berlin Conference gave the green light to Britain, to possess parts of West Africa: Nigeria became a British possession, known as a Protectorate.
The play opens in a Victorian drawing room, where we hear the language of the ''dogooder.'' A conversation between the 'Gift', a minister, two white women – one of whom is the carer of 'The Gift' – and a black man. The white conversationalists espouse the thinking of the time – which permeates the play – the belief in the ''civilising mission.'' The black participants, who have been nurtured in the Victorian cradle, seem to echo the sentiments of the former.
The 'Gift' is Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a Yoruba royal, aged seven, who is given as a gift to Queen Victoria. The Queen adopts Bonetta; overseeing her residence and education in two English households – and an interlude in Africa - before her marriage, aged eighteen, to her betrothed; the other black person in the conversation. We see Sarah trying to teach her black working-class maid the rules of etiquette and deportment.
Just as you've had enough of the platitudes of Empire, the curtain comes down for a quick scene change, re-opening on a contemporary scene in a Cheshire village, as a middle class black couple are joined by a white couple from the same neighbourhood. In a scene of brilliant back and forth - ending in anger and the white couple leaving – we see the battering of political correctness and the dismissal of the spirit of diversity. During the verbal altercation, it transpires that, due to stereotypical thinking, the white couple had phoned the police soon after the recent move of the black couple to the village. That same feeling of ''saving,'' that spurred on the English officer to ask for the little Yoruba girl, infused the black couple, who had adopted a white child, and taken her away from possible drug influences and prospective government care.
The black couple admit to their overriding white influences and would, in contemporary parlance, be termed ''coconuts.'' The white couple, who began the conversation as, for want of a better word, ''liberals'', soon exhibit some of the thinking of their Victorian forbears.
After the interlude, returning to a Victorian setting, another brilliant scene unfolds, where Queen Victoria steps in and her viewpoint is counteracted by a black female figure, whom only Sarah can hear. We hear this back and forth, between the monarch and the mind; like a deadly contest of words between zealous debaters. One is shouting ''We are the makers of progress''; the other says '' It is time for your appraisal.'' Sarah – white education, black skin - her mind trapped between the opinions of everyone in a frenzy of confusion, stabs the queen to death.
The company told a heavy story, but found places for humour. In a simple setting and a small cast, they gave us an insight into ourselves; the writer and director – Janice Okoh and Dawn Walton – and the wonderful group of actors, gave us a lesson in our past and present humanity.