Bermudian Actor’s Play Was A Black UK First

December 28, 2010

According to a British theatrical historian a musical play staged in 1909 by Bermudian actor/playwright Ernest Trimingham was the first entirely black-themed production ever staged in the United Kingdom.

The Bermudian’s play debuted more than 25 years before legendary Trinidadian author, political activist and cricket historian C.L.R. James pioneering work on the Haitian Revolution, ”Black Jacobins” in 1936, previously thought to have been the first Afro-Caribbean theatrical production staged in Britain.

Ernest Trimingham, born in Bermuda in 1880, moved to Britain to pursue a successful theatrical career in the late Victorian or early Edwardian period. He staged his self-penned musical called “Lily of Bermuda” in Manchester in 1909.

Produced by an Anglo-Arabic businessman and literary agent called Druse Mohamed Ali, the groundbreaking play was not a  popular success and a planned transfer to London’s West End theatre district was cancelled.

Ernest Trimingham went on to become one of the first black actors in British film . It is believed Mr Trimingham made his film debut in a movie called “Dick Turpin: King of the Highwaymen” (1913) as a character called “Beetle”.

Mr. Trimingham’s last recorded appearance on stage in London’s West End was in 1941. Shortly after his own arrival in London in 1939, the legendary actor Earl Cameron encountered his fellow Bermudian.

“We called him ‘Trim’ but I didn’t know him personally and it couldn’t have been his real name,” Mr. Cameron recalled in a 1990s interview. “The Trimingham family in Bermuda were wealthy white people … The name Trimingham was everywhere in Bermuda. They owned a lot of property so Ernest must have taken his stage name from them.”

Ernest Trimingham died in London on February 2, 1942 at the age of 61.

The discovery of the Trimingham-penned musical was made during research conducted for a Royal National Theatre database project to catalogue black contributions to British theatre for a new Black British Play Archive.

1simelia“This project is about documenting, for the first time, a history that had been forgotten and in some cases completely erased from both our memories and our consciousness,” said British stage director and theatrical historian Simeilia Hodge-Dalloway. “It was a new venture for the Royal National Theatre Studio who had never before embarked on a project of this magnitude and importance. Before we started the project, we estimated a total of 150 plays, so you can imagine the excitement we all felt when I reported that I had discovered over 400 plays …

“Moreover, although everyone predicted that ‘The Black Jacobins’ by C.L.R James was the first Black British play to ever be staged in Britain in 1936, I recently discovered ‘The Lily of Bermuda’ by Ernest A Trimingham, which was staged at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, in 1909.”

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  1. Deirdre Osborne says:

    DUSE is the correct spelling for Duse Mohamed Ali (not “Druse”. The surviving libretto is for a musical, it is not a play and so Una Marson’s play still remains the first extant play by a black writer in Britain to be produced (in London), 1933…