by Lynn on October 30, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ont. until November 5, 2022.

Written by Marcia Johnson

Directed by Esie Mensah

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Tim Rodrigues

Sound by Christopher Stanton

Cast: Percy Anane-Dwumfour

Kevin Hare

Kaylee Harwood

Germaine Konji

Keren Roberts

A wonderfully clear production thanks to director Esie Mensah and her dandy cast.

The Story. The story takes place in two time periods in two places: 1952 in Kenya and in 2015 in London, England. In 1952 in Kenya, Mercy a restaurant owner, is hired to cook for the impending visit of Princess Elizabeth (soon to be Queen) and the Duke of Edinburgh.  

 In 2015, in London, England, Tia a young Kenyan-born Canadian, is working as an intern on a TV drama series about the British royal family (think The Crown) – while also pursuing a writing project of her own.

In both the 1952 section and the 2015 section the story initially is being told and managed by white voices to the exclusion of black voices. And then Mercy in Kenya in 1952 and Tia in London in 2015 decide to correct the exclusion. The play explores questions of colonialism, nationalism and who gets to have a voice.

The Production. I find the structure of Marcia Johnson’s play problematic. Each scene bounces back and forth between 1952 and 2015. The two previous productions I’ve seen over the last few years have done little to clarify the situation, with many shiftings of tables and chairs to establish the different time periods and scene locations. I have often thought that projections indicating the year and location would help but these weren’t used in the two previous productions. Esie Mensah, a wonderful dancer, choreographer and now director has solved this problem efficiently, simply and with great detail, even without the time/place projections.

Designer, Jackie Chau has created distinct spaces on the stage for each time period and country. The scenes in Kenya in 1952 are placed stage right. The entrance to Mercy’s restaurant is up centre through parting double doors over which is an arch. A simple table and chairs are a bit stage right. There is a vibrant table cloth with a bold design covering the table. Later when the action shifts to the lodge in Kenya where Princess Elizabeth (Kaylee Harwood) and the Duke of Edinburgh will stay for their visit, there is a long table and chairs again with a table covering. There is a stairway with a bold pattern on the rise of the stairs in the Kenya scenes also stage right. The London scenes are placed stage left with a desk, some chairs and another staircase with another pattern, rather somber and a bit ponderous. That said “London, 2015” to me.

Jackie Chau’s costumes for each time period and country are just as distinctive. The clothes for Mercy (Keren Roberts) and Faith (Germaine Konji) are traditional for Kenya, the colours and patterns are very vivid and arresting. Talbot (Kevin Hare), the Princess’ envoy is dressed in a prime suit and tie. The clothes for Tia (Germaine Konji) and Robin (Kaylee Harwood) in London are casual. Great care went into the choosing of the fabrics, design and table coverings to appear as authentic to Kenya in particularly as possible.

By establishing distinct areas for the two time periods and locations, director Esie Mensah cut down on the need to shift the furniture to many and various locations as each scene moved from time period and back and from Kenya to London.

The acting was fine and Mensah established the relationships nicely. As Mercy, Keren Roberts plays her with all the bubbling rage that consumes Mercy. She is an anti-monarchist. She remembers the damage the colonials have done to her country. She protested years before. She has no love for the English and certainly not the royals. Keren Roberts as Mercy is staunchly proud of her country. When she has an opportunity to voice her opinion to the Royals, she takes it, never flinching or standing on ceremony. This Mercy commands respect.  

Faith is a calming soul between her mother Mercy and the rest of the world. As played by Germaine Konji, Faith is a confident woman with a softness and a diplomacy that is effective and soothing. Faith reads the world better than Mercy does. Diplomacy seems to be in her bones. She gets things done without fuss.

Kaylee Harwood as Robin is a very contemporary English woman in London, 2015, comfortable in her world and confident. As Princess Elizabeth in 1952 Kenya, Kaylee Harwood is poised, controlled and obviously following the demanding protocol of a Princess. Kevin Hare as Talbot is proper, efficient and exceedingly polite. What I thought was strange about this otherwise fine performance is that Kevin Hare did not play Talbot with an English accent, and Talbot would surely be English since he was the envoy of the Princess. As Maurice, English writer of the series on the Royals, Kevin Hare is contemporary and does play him with an English accent.

Finally, Percy Anane-Dwumfour as Montague in Kenya in 1952 and Steven in London in 2015 plays both men well, differentiating their demeanor, posture and composure.  

Comment. Playwright, Marcia Johnson wrote Serving Elizabeth after she saw the episode in the T.V. series The Crown in which Princess Elizabeth went to Kenya in 1952, interacted with several Black people and precious few of them actually had speaking parts. Marcia Johnson corrected that lapse by writing Serving Elizabeth in which the Black characters have plenty to say and in their confident way they say it and are heard. In the London, 2015 scenes, Tia is aware of this lapse when she reads the script for the T.V. series that Maurice is writing about the Royal Family (hence we assume The Crown) and sees that he has given practically no dialogue to Black characters, so she decides to write her own script. The whole idea of “who gets to have a voice” is examined in Serving Elizabeth. Director Esie Mensah ensures that that voice is clear, strong and commanding in her meticulous direction.

Theatre Aquarius presents:

Plays until: November 5, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (1 intermission)

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