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Javone Prince: 'Black talents need to have a DIY mentality'

FUNNY GUY: Actor and comedian Javone Prince

IN A game of word association, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would put the words ‘suicide’ and ‘comedy’ together.

But indeed, satire is the name of the game in theatrical masterpiece, The Suicide, which is currently running at the National Theatre. Written in 1928 by Russian playwright Nikolai Erdman, this new adaptation from playwright Suhayla El-Bushra smashes the drama into the 21st century and right into the heart of contemporary urban Britain.

The production stars British comedy actor Javone Prince, who plays Sam – a man who is down on his luck after losing his job. His benefits have stopped, he’s stuck in a tiny flat with his girlfriend Maya (Rebecca Scroggs) and her mum, the pressure on him is building – and he soon feels like there might be only one way out.

But as Sam contemplates whether life is worth living, there are plenty of people keen to capitalise on his momentous decision. From corrupt local politicians to kids trying to raise the number of views of their online videos, everyone wants a piece of Sam’s demise. Faced with the promise of immortality, he is forced to question what his life is worth.

“This is a play about a man who has lost his job; a play about now, a play about society today and how we live,” says Prince. “It is what we are experiencing in Britain today. There is no work – they say there is, but there really isn’t any.”

Thankfully, Prince hasn’t been short of work, having starred in TV shows including Little Miss Jocelyn, My Family and the hugely popular E4 sitcom PhoneShop.

As such, can he relate to Sam in any way?

“No, because I’ve got a job,” he laughs. “I’m not really a down person or a depressed person… I do like watching telly though!”

Still, Prince is no couch potato. Not content with appearing in various TV shows, the performer penned his own successful comedy – aptly titled The Javone Prince Show – which was aired on BBC2 last year. The sketch show won praise, not only for giving a platform to numerous black British comedy talents, but for also examining race in modern day Britain, through sketches that were cringeworthy, yet current and always comical.

Additionally, the show earned Prince a nomination for best male comedy performance at the British Academy Television Awards earlier this year.

Making a name for himself at a time where there have been numerous calls and campaigns for greater diversity within the arts, Prince has been part of the new generation of black British entertainers, who have enjoyed success against the odds.


PILLOW TALK: Javone Prince and Rebecca Scroggs star in The Suicide

Much like Michaela Coel, writer and star of E4’s Chewing Gum; comedy trio Joivan Wade, Dee Kartier and Percelle Ascott, who became internet sensations with their YouTube sketch show Mandem on the Wall; and comedian/writer Dane Baptiste, who penned his own show Sunny D, Prince has managed to make his mark.

How has this new generation managed to smash through the proverbial glass ceiling?
“We do it ourselves,” he says. “These jobs weren’t given to us, we made them ourselves. I wrote The Javone Prince Show, Michaela wrote [the play] Chewing Gum Dreams [which was adapted as Chewing Gum for E4].

“We have to create jobs in order to be seen. One of my friends, a black actor, has stayed in the same position, struggling, perhaps because he didn’t create the work for himself. You’ve got to have a DIY mentality. No one is going to give you the opportunity.”

Would Prince say he experienced difficulty as a black entertainer in trying to secure TV roles?
“Yes, of course. Just because I’ve had a successful career doesn’t mean it hasn’t been difficult. It has taken me 16 years to get here.

“I’ve seen white actors who started out as my equals surpass me. They are Hollywood stars now. But, in a way, I’m fine with that. That’s just the way it is and I’m not sure if it’s getting any better.”

Nonetheless, Prince remains optimistic about his future, in which he hopes to “make more TV programmes” and “maybe get into directing.”

For now though, he’s a stage star, with The Suicide running until June 25. Asked why audiences should come and see the play, Prince says: “It’s a very funny show that also has the truth right in the heart of it.”

The Suicide is at the National Theatre, London SE1 until June 25. For tickets, visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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