Review: Princess Essex / HEADCASE, Bush Theatre

Princess Essex and HEADCASE prove two contrasting and enjoyable entries of the Essex on Stage festival at the Bush Theatre

“I’m much more likely to engage in a fantasy than reality”

Originally planned for the VAULT Festival, Essex on Stage – platforming Essex and Outer East London writers – has found a new home at the Bush Theatre’s studio. First up in a double bill for me was Anne Odeke’s Princess Essex, fresh from its own tour of Essex community venues. It’s an adventurous one-woman show that riffs on the story of the first black woman to enter a beauty pageant in the UK and tries to fit a whole lot more besides.  

The tale of Senegalese Princess Dinubolu, especially as rewritten here as an alias for enterprising Southend woman Joanna, is engaging and highly entertaining in Odeke’s hands. And you almost wish she’d focused on that alone, as the framing device of a contemporary schoolgirl giving a presentation on the princess weighs the show down a little with its mechanism of fact delivery. That said, there’s some truly arresting information in here – you just want it to be integrated in a different way to allow more focus on Joanna.

HEADCASE switches up the mood completely, its cheery pop soundtrack on arrival instantly nailing the looser VAULT-ish vibe and with a gentle bit of audience interaction and interactivity to begin with, Kristin Mcilquham guides us perfectly into her world. Knocking on the door of a significant birthday, she’s working through her list of things to do before she’s 40 with just a hint of trepidation.

For that is the age her father experienced a traumatic brain injury, irrevocably changing their relationship, and the show starts to unpick the effect that has had throughout her life. With the help of a bit of Baby D, Mcilquham blends a lovely study of 90s pop culture with these more personal revelations – the contours of her relationship with her mum, the challenges of finding a man (not enough straight ones in the audience last night 😉 and much more besides. With its highly engaging writer/performer, HEADCASE deserves to be seen.

Running time: Princess Essex and HEADCASE both run for an hour each
Photos: Cam Harle (HEADCASE)
Princess Essex is booking until 15th April and HEADCASE is booking until 16th April both at the Bush Theatre

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