Discover the hidden histories of two extraordinary women of colour and their close personal relationships with Queen Victoria I, in ‘She’s Royal’ a brand-new stage production from Blackstory Partnership at the Birmingham Hippodrome this month.
Launching as part of Birmingham’s Black History Month programme, the play explores the stories of Sarah Forbes Bonetta and Sophia Duleep Singh, goddaughters of Queen Victoria I, and is an all-women-led production.
Both women’s stories are remarkable and read more like fiction than fact. Sarah Forbes Bonetta was the daughter of an African Chief who was given as a gift to the Queen and became her protégée, becoming elevated to Victorian high society. Sophia Duleep Singh was the daughter of the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire and goddaughter of Queen Victoria, who used her position to fight for women’s rights as part of the Suffragette movement.
The stories of these incredible women form the backbone of this new production, which is held together by their emotional and complex connections to the Queen and the Great British Empire.
Tonia Daley-Campbell, writer of She’s Royal, said “There are so many female stories from our shared history, that have not been told, hidden histories of women of colour in particular. As a black female writer, I felt compelled to write this play when Blackstory Partnership approached me.
“When I heard about Sarah I thought, how on earth did I not know that Sarah Forbes Bonetta was walking around 1800s England as a quintessentially English woman, goddaughter to Queen Victoria? For young black girls growing up, I think hearing about these women will make them feel so empowered and seen.”
The play also features an all-female actor and the ensemble is made up of a diverse community cast, many of whom are acting for the first time. For Director Lorna Laidlaw, this has been a brilliant opportunity and a chance to really connect with people away from her life on Coronation Street.
Lorna Laidlaw, Director of She’s Royal, said; “It’s been an amazing experience. The whole journey has been incredible for the community cast and professional cast and will make the play even better. We’ve got someone in the cast who is a Nurse so one minute she’s in the operating theatre and the next she’s at rehearsals! It’s such an interesting story and they’ve learned so much from it and the process.
“There are so many hidden histories like Sarah and Sophia’s, and what I would love to see is that we all support each other telling them, whatever your gender or the colour of your skin. I’d like the audience to be a big mixture of people because once we all hear these stories, we start sharing them and that’s what’s important.”
This new production for the stage has been produced by Audrey Hayles-Parkes of Blackstory Partnership, written by Tonia Daley-Campbell and is being directed by Lorna Laidlaw. For Audrey, the production has been a real passion project and is furthering Blackstory Partnership’s mission of showcasing black history.
Audrey Hayles-Parkes, Director of Blackstory Partnership and Producer of She’s Royal, said; “I’ve wanted to do a production around Sarah Forbes Bonetta for such a long time so it’s fantastic to be bringing ‘She’s Royal’ to the stage this year. Once I learned about Sophia’s story as well, I knew I wanted to share both of these women’s stories.”
“We want to share She’s Royal with as many people as we can to educate, particularly young people, and show them that it wasn’t all doom and gloom at that time. History isn’t all about enslavement and representation really does matter. If you’re interested in English history and the relationship that the British Empire had with other countries, this is the production to come and watch.”
For the team behind She’s Royal, showing that people of colour have a place in British history is of paramount importance. This creative team were struck by the fact that they never learned about Sarah or Sophia at school and feel that would have made a massive difference to them. Now they want to make sure that young people today get the opportunity to hear from these remarkable historical figures who have been swept under the rug.
She’s Royal will be at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday 18 October and Wednesday 19 October. Tickets can be booked online or by calling the box office on 0844 338 5000.