Vanessa - The Show

Vanessa arts fringe festival queer black gay marriage

Three Generations, Three Stories, One Family

Is anything more important than family? 

Vanessa is a middle aged  black woman on her way to her son’s wedding. A wedding to a middle class  white man she barely knows. The day will cause her to challenge what  she believes and will bring  her to a crossroads.  But there is more  than one side to a story, and as her grandmother Celia calls to her from  the past with surprising tales of her own, her son Andrew brings his  own perspective from the future.

We all want to be loved, we are inextricably linked through time and space - is anything more important than family?

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Developing the show

This show was based on a true story of one person's struggle to get  their black family to come to their gay wedding.  We workshopped the show in  February 2018 , using spoken word, music poetry and stand up.  Told through  the eyes of three interlinked characters. Vanessa previewed at Eclectic  Bristol for Black Artists On The Move, Nottingham Playhouse AMPLIFY and  Wandsworth Arts Fringe Fragility Takeover at the Cat's Back before getting rave reviews at Brighton Fringe Festival in May.


The show focuses on Vanessa, Andrew and Celia. Moving in and out of three characters with no costume changes or even a moment to catch her breath was a challenge for Sam. We brought in the formidable Lucy Jane Parkinson who starred in JOAN and BULLISH to work on those transitions and characterisations.

The 3 characters tell us a different story about being black in an ever challenging world.


Vanessa at the Brighton Festival 2018


Fringe REVIEW: Vanessa @Purple Playhouse Theatre

In  this gender fluid solo performance co-writer Sam Beckett Jr plays not  only Andrew the gay black guy about to marry his white middle class  boyfriend, but she also morphs with ease into Vanessa, Andrew’s mother  on her way to the wedding with her unseen husband.

AND AS if that trick were not impressive enough, Sam  creates a third character – Celia an old female poet from the deep  South at some unspecified period in the past but probably 19th century.

Sam and co-writer Jim Kitson, who also directs, add  to the powerful brew by mixing genres – so that Andrew’s monologues to  us are in the form of stand-up comedy, while Vanessa has conversations  with the unseen husband and also with her long-dead 9-year-old daughter  Grace. Celia just talks straight at us in a heightened poetical style.

Andrew has lots of black jokes about the light colour of his skin and  about his mother’s obsession with baked chicken. While we laugh with  Andrew, the two women characters touch our hearts deeply. Vanessa is a  caring soul, God-fearing, who embraces her son’s gayness with genuine  warmth and humour.

Celia in her poetic descriptions of how she falls in love in church with a young black girl would merit a solo show on its own.

When you think nothing stranger will happen, Sam up and kills off her  mother character at the wedding – “it put a downer on the day,“ says  Andrew who tells us that black people do death really well.

This is a very intimate, in your face cabaret style show, which the  writers say is still a work in progress, but Sam’s  metamorphosis between the three characters is split-second and stunning.

Vanessa is at the Purple Playhouse until June 3

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Review by Brian Butler