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?
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
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
For more information, click here:
Review by Brian Butler