Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Henry V ( The Courtyard Theatre - RSC - Stratford-Upon-Avon November 2007)

Henry V brings to an end, the complete history works of Shakespeare by the RSC, and as with all things Shakespeare, it is full of life and has been interpreted by Michael Boyd with vigour. A story of war and its ruinous damage to those involved fused with humour and of course would be incomplete without the elements of treason, passion and love.

Geoffrey Streatfeild, gives an astounding performance as the young and zealous Henry V, who rallies the English forces as they take on the might of the French army, a rather ambitious decision that turns out in his favour with the minimal loss of his soldiers and they win the battle.

Boyd’s interpretation successfuly fuses the the responsibility o king feels towards his nation with his anger and disappointment at betrayal into a compelling story of war,culminating in a heightened burst of emotional energy when the restless king decides to confront the traitors within his own camp.

This final offering in the history cycle is monumental in style, the physical action on stage which includes the French dukes, a bunch of colourful characters hanging down on a trapeze and movements by Liz Ranken bring an element of entertainment to the whole production as the action unfolds. The English army don’t fail amuse us either with their humorous war antics. An unflinching moment for me was watching Captain Fluellen played by Jonathan Slinger, feed leek to Pistol for his wayward words during battle.

Electrifying performances from members of the cast, with the likes of Fluellen, Nym, Mount Joy, played Chuk Iwuji and Alexia Healy in her role as Lady Catherine, indulge us all the way. Henry V is a thrilling production to watch as it brings finality to the critically acclaimed History Cycle season for the RSC.

Image: RSC
Photographer: Ellie Kurttz

Statement Of Regret (National Theatre - November 2007)

Kwame Kwei-Armah is back with his third play, ‘Statement Of Regret,’ for the National Theatre, after the success of Elmina’s Kitchen and Fix UP. A daring attempt to address the deep seated divisions that exists between Africans and Afro-Caribbeans, and politics becomes the tool of exposing the differences in these communities.

Kwaku Mackenzie is the founder and head of IBPR, a political think thank that raises awareness about issues which affects Africans and Afro-Caribbeans in the UK. However, the death of his father and the guilt he feels over his actions of not being there soon takes their toll on him and he hits the bottle. To make matters worse, his family home is in disarray with the arrival of his illegitimate child, and he has lost the confidence of those who work for him. Kwaku is a self condemned man whose decision making ability has become more impaired since his heavy drinking sessions.

This will prove costly when IBPR, under Kwaku’s direction takes a radical step in complete contradiction to everything it stands for; fighting for the equality of Africans and Afro-Caribbeans, decides to focus on Afro-Caribbeans only. Creating a disunited Black-British community, even the BNP wants him to speak at some of their events. However, the tensions goes beyond politics, they are also personal as the characters are forced to face up to the stark reality of their individual lives and the prejudices they carry within. Hidden away from the surface yet visible for all to see.

The stage is set for questions to be asked about the role of slavery for the frosty relationship that still exists between both communities. An argument based on ‘Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome’, and at the same time seeking to know how far we have come as a community and the amount of healing to be done before we can move on.

Laced with humour, “BPT – Black People’s Time”, and energetic dialogue and an outstanding performance from the cast. Don Warrington is superb in the lead role, as of Kwaku and Chu Omambala is brilliant as Idrissa Adebayo, the Oxbridge educated gay and intelligent research director. Who speaks his mind, ever so eloquently and effusively. Clifford Samuel is the office intern with a PHD, who gladly reminds everyone of his academic achievement.

While it would have been easier to be an outsider looking in on the action, Kwei-Armah's writing resonates with stories and incidents I have heard and witnessed in past times within my community as a person of African descent living in the UK. He has managed to touch a nerve that needs healing from all side.

A visceral piece of writing but losses its way in the second half of this production by giving in to the emotions that run high. Taking focus away from the compelling subject matter it started with. Nonetheless, ‘Statement Of Regret’ is a provocative take on a rather delicate issue which is still a taboo when raised in some quarters of the African and Afro-Caribbean communities.

Image:Keith Pattison

The Investigation (Young Vic - November 2007)

A courtroom, 6 smartly dressed male actors and 1 actress, and the stage is set for a showdown which examines the Holocaust. The only twist to this story is that its all in French, subtitled in English on two huge projectors for the audience and the cast members are Rwandans and so is the director.

Originally written by Peter Weiss, ‘The Investigation’, is one of the most prominent theatre productions to examine Auschwitz for all its horror. Produced by Urwintore, a Rwandan Theatre Company, and adapted and directed, by Dorcy Rugamba, this latest instalment is an introspective look at history’s most recent and atrocious Rwandan genocide.

The actors in their multiple roles as prosecuting lawyers, victims, defence counsel and defendants cross examine each other with each new case, as they seek answers to the actions of various individuals involved in the case. It is an intense and thrilling trail as victim after victim give accounts of their harrowing experiences, what you have is a gripping succession of stories which leaves you swirling with a wave of emotions and questions of how could we let this happen again? This happens to be the theme that resonates throughout this compelling production with its unadulterated exposure of crimes against humanity in words.

Rugamba points out that the aim of this production is not to answer questions but to leave the issue out there for individuals to answer for themselves, “By investigating the Nazi’s crimes, we are prosecuting the crimes of our own time which never succeeded in recovering from Auschwitz crimes.” A point which comes across vividly through the intensity of the play and the few momentary burst of emotions on stage.

The choreographed stage movement represent the beginning of a new case or as a different victim relays their bloody and painful story. Outstanding performances from the ensemble of actors gives a voice to each character the audience is introduced to, giving a multitude of polysemic meanings to each case from different perspectives.

Though the use of French, seems like a language barrier at first for those of us who don’t understand a word of French. However, the intensity that emanates as the characters tell you their story is powerful enough to have you fully absorbed and make you want to know more about what became of these individuals.

‘The Investigation’ is an authentic portrayal about a time in history that should never be forgotten and at all cost, should never happen again.

I think this is well worth seeing because hearing the voices and seeing things from the eyes of individuals who have lived through these heinous acts of our time keeps you grounded.

Image: Marc Brenner

The Brothers Size (Young Vic - November 2007)

It is rare for a new writer to captivate the attention of both critics and audiences alike but Tarell Alvin McCraney has succeeded were others have struggled with his first play.

Set in Deep South of Louisiana, ‘The Brothers Size’ explores the bond of brotherhood, written against the backdrop of life’s daily struggles. Ogun and Oshoosi Size are brothers and have chosen different paths in life. However, the love and family bond they share means one is continuously drawn into the other’s world, unwillingly. Ogun, the law abiding older brother, who owns an auto-repair shop, and Oshoosi, his younger brother, an ex-con who is doing his best to stay on the straight and narrow after his recent release from prison.

Despite Oshoosi’s attempt to do right, the arrival of Elegba, his ex-cell mate soon brings a dramatic twist to their lives and the promise of freedom is once again is threatened and in tatters for the Size brothers. Oshoosi soon learns certain things in life may be free but have a heavy price tag and for him, that could be his freedom.

Directed by Bijan Sheibani, the action of the entire play takes place in a circle mapped out by the actors at the beginning, reminiscent of traditional story telling times in the Yoruba culture and other African cultures; when children sit in a circle around as an elder narrates a story. It is more of an accomplishment for McCraney, using the same story telling techniques to introduce characters and scenes as the action unfolds. McCraney excels in his ability to take on Yoruba mythology, using the names of African gods to tell this tale of two brothers.

Shebani’s interpretation of McCraney’s script successfuly fuses the responsibility Ogun feels towards Oshoosi, and his disappointment and anger at his actions. A compelling story of family history and the dynamic relationship between both brothers, culminating in a heightened burst of emotional energy from Obi Abili as Oshoosi, and Nyasha Hatendi as Ogun.

Energetic stage movements choreographed by Aline David and the continuous music by Manuel Pinheiro, which accompanies the actions on stage combined with electrifying performances of Abili, Nyasha and Martello-White as Elegaba, is both delightful and captivating.

The Brothers Size is an evocative production and McCraney is an exciting new voice to watch out for.

Image: Marc Brenner

Joe Guy (Soho Theatre - November 2007)

Joseph Boateng, better known as Joe Guy, is a young premiership footballer of Ghanaian heritage. He soon finds himself living the life he has always dreamed of; the fame, the money, the notoriety and of course the bling. Gone are the days when he was mocked for his strong Ghanaian accent, ridiculed by the girls and bullied on all sides and the assault goes as far as him being called Kunta Kinte.

Joe is the new kid on the block until he meets Carlton the menace and Rod Campbell, his team mates and the road to self-destruct is set for this promising young talent. Who questions his own identity as he tries to fit in and finds himself lost in the hype of his own ego.

Joe Guy is an explosive and vulgar exposure about the underlining tensions that exists between Africans and Afro-Caribbeans, as it examines the issues of race and identity through a theatrical lens. It also gives a rare glimpse into the life the premiership world for all its eccentricities.

Roy Williams writes with a birds eye view on his chosen theme as he delivers sensational yet punchy and witty dialogue again and again. Abdul Salis is effulgent as Joe Guy and Mo Sesay, once again has not failed to let his brilliance as an actor shine through. Interestingly, there is great rapport between both men in the opening scene which was hilarious and captivating, makes them a dynamic stage duo.

Elufowoju, Jr, succeeds in his ability to take on an immensely sensitive subject matter and marry it to dramatic artistry, bringing life and humour to an issue that is rather swept aside. While the Despite a muffled up dug-out scene where it was rather challenging to hear Mo Sesay clearly, ‘Joe Guy’ is a sharp, energetic, exciting and brilliant production.

Image courtesy of Tiata Fahodzi and Stepehn Cummiskey.

Rough Crossings (Lyric Hammersmith - October 2007)

It is the American Civil War and slaves who were brought over from Africa dessert their masters to join the British army with the promise of their freedom. However, after the war, they find themselves in Nova Scotia, and the promise of freedom, unfulfilled. Feeling betrayed and abandoned, Patrick Robinson is his role as Thomas Peters takes it upon himself to fight for the justice of his people and travels to England to demand justice for the way they have been treated.

Set across three continents and countries, Europe (Great Britain), North America (United States) and Africa (Sierra Leone), Rough Crossings is the compelling true story of freed slaves sent back to Africa in the hope of deciding their own destiny. Based on a book by the same title and written by the historian, Simon Schama, and adapted for stage by Caryl Phillips. Directed by Rupert Goold, Rough Crossings is a play about vision, betrayal, prejudice, courage and fight for freedom at a time when slave trade was the most profitable business.

The tilting stage, which symbolises the sea and journey of the slaves to the different places they find themselves before returning to Africa, gets your attention when you walk into the theatre. The use of old Negro spiritual hymns and songs, adds a depth of humanity to the characters and helps the audience to experience their pain with them. The use of movement, scenic backdrps and video clips to represent the different transitions in the play also serve the thrilling production justice.

The cast delivers a powerful understanding of the story and of their individual characters as well as their ability to take on more than one role. Patrick Robinson (Thomas Peters) gives an outstanding performance as a charismatic character whose voice of opposition cannot be ignored. He is a man who is sure of himself and strength, and though he is seen by the others at some point as being contentious, he believes in his own self-worth. “I’m a man not an object to be cast aside once someone decides he has no use of me” as poignantly put to David George (Peter De Jersey) who serves a priest to the slaves and bring a godly perspective to the story.

While Rough Crossings is enthralling and thought provoking as it explores cultural arguments which are still deeply rooted on both sides of the Atlantic. It is also told from a multi-dimensional point of view; the Americans who lost their slaves and wanted them back, the British crusaders, who fought for the abolition of slavery and the freed slaves themselves. On the other side of the coin, it feels like an ensemble of messy acts joined together by the magnitude of the subject matter known as slave trade. If you are not conversant with the original story, it feels muddled up and takes a while to work out the point you are at with the play.

It certainly could have done with more depth as to what happened to the slaves upon their arrival in their new found African utopia. The audience is rather inundated with a succession of events as John Clarkson (Ed Hughes) tries to restore order and keep two opposing sides at peace. The White settlers who run the Sierra Leone Company and the freed slaves who want more from their home soil and feel the British Government has ignored them and fallen short on promises made. While the sum total of the story culminates in Sierra Leone, it also raises the question of what it means to be free and at liberty. Though this stage production fails to deliver on the same level of narrative vigour with which Schama tells the story in his book. It is still an imaginative and innovative attempt to recreate history on the stage.

Image: Manuel Harlan

An African Theatre Renaissance

Tiata Fahodzi, is celebrating a decade of producing work which explores the richness and heritage of theatre inspired by British-African communities. Aimed at all-inclusive British audience, the company has established itself firmly on the UK theatre landscape by continuously, placing British-Africans at the heart of its productions.

Regarded as the foremost British-African Theatre in the UK, Tiata Fahodzi, translates as ‘‘theatre of the emancipated,’’ and was founded in 1997, by its current artistic director, Femi Elufowoju, Jr, who has been at the helm of the company for the last 10 years. Born in London to Nigerian parents, Elufowoju Jr, originally trained as a solicitor before turning to dramatic arts. He worked as an actor for six years and later trained as a Regional Theatre Young Director in 1996 at Theatre Royal Stratford, before forming the company with the sole aim of addressing the under-representation of African theatre in the UK in the 90s. However, what started off as a small ambition is today, one of the most highly recognised British-African theatre companies in the UK theatre landscape. “I had a small ambition, it wasn’t huge. It was a small ambition to try and redress in my own small way, the perspective of black theatre in Britain as it existed then” says Elufowoju Jr. A perspective he believes to have mainly been that of a huge British-Caribbean viewpoint. “I had the opportunity as a theatre facilitator and storyteller to change that balance in a particular way and that’s why I formed the company” he explains.

Since its early beginnings, the company has staged 14 major productions and its play reading festival, Tiata Delights, which celebrates African playwrights, a platform for their work to be presented to the public for the first time, recently celebrated its third successive year. The company’s last major stage outing was ‘The Estate’ at the Soho Theatre in 2006, which won critical acclaim with critics and audiences alike. Elufowoju, Jr, describes his experience over the last decade as a “Huge learning curve. Running a theatre is like running a crèche; it goes beyond actually producing a play.” It is a responsibility he deems to be one that gives you the remit of carrying out certain roles; from managing personnel, keeping the artistes prepared, happy and valued, to fulfilling certain criteria’s with funding bodies, and of course, producing the work. He believes the latter, is “The most important thing because you want members of the audience to appreciate and connect with the work.”

Known for its instinctive approach and style of examining Black-British culture, its latest production is no different. ‘Joe Guy,’ written by Roy Williams, an award winning playwright and directed by Elufowoju Jr, and is showing at the Soho Theatre later this month. It explores issues of identity and celebrity, and the historical tensions and bitter prejudices, which exist between African and Caribbean communities, where young African descendants distance themselves from a unified Black Britain. On his decision to deal with a controversial subject matter, Elufowoju Jr, says “It’s controversial because people don’t talk about it. It’s sacred and almost a taboo actually” and he sees this production as “a vulgar exposure of the theme.” He hopes both British-Africans and Caribbeans are empowered because it is not meant to criticise anyone, rather, it is “An attack on both races and sensibilities due to the experiences permeating society.”

Tiata Fahodzi’s, alliance with Soho Theatre - regarded as a jewel in the West End for its choice of diverse work goes beyond a joint effort to create work for audiences and make profits. Together, they have collaborated on two productions - ‘The Estate’ and ‘Joe Guy.’ Lisa Goldman, artistic director of Soho Theatre, points out that Soho Theatre, aims to bring a balance to collaborations but admits, “We love the work of Tiata Fahodzi, and Femi’s work is always entertaining and invigorating but his purpose is deeply serious.” While she appreciates the artistic values embedded in Tiata Fahodzi productions, she also believes they are “Exploring vital contemporary themes and deep complex emotions. I think audiences respond to the richness of that experience,” she adds.

While Elufowoju, Jr, admits that the last 10 years of the company’s life has been, “An eclectic variety of exposing one’s self with its fair measure of trail and tribulation, emotions and celebrations.” He would also love to think that their latter years as a company will be euphoric times. Despite the challenges along the way, the company has been able to give back to the community for which it was created to fulfil a role by creating a platform for young British-Africans to maximise their artistic skills. Among those who have benefited from the work of Tiata Fahodzi, are Mo Sesay, Yvonne Dodoo and Nick Oshikalu. They all hold Elufowoju Jr, in high esteem because they get sense of camaraderie each time they work with him. They are in agreement about the prominent role of Tiata Fahodzi, which they believe is “To humanise the British African experience, allowing us to be seen as human beings, who have the same universal aspirations, flaws, goals and dreams as the rest of the British population” explains Sesay. Sesay and Oshikalu worked with Elufowoju Jr, on The Gods Are Not To Blame, its 2005 production at the Arcola theatre and are reunited with him for ‘Joe Guy’. Though Sesay has worked with Elufowoju Jr, on several projects, this is Oshikalu’s third time and on this occasion as an assistant director. “Femi allows me to portray human beings with all their complexities, their failings and successes,” says Sesay. Oshikalu credits the company for doors of opportunities that have been opened to him, “Personally, since working with the company, it has opened up casting opportunities that wouldn’t have come up with other companies and it has helped my personal development as an actor, and given me an amazing opportunity to try my hand at directing.”

While Dodoo, has only worked with Elufowoju Jr, once, in her role as Sola, in The Estate she has also reaped the benefits of being exposed before audiences through theatre and recently landed a role on The Bill for two episodes, to be shown in December. On his ability as a director and contribution to British-African theatre, they are fervent that “Femi is a credit to his contemporaries,” as affirmed by Dodoo.

While Elufowoju Jr, is excited about Joe Guy and anticipates how well it will be received, he is sure the future for the company is bright and he looks forward to Tiata Fahodzi’s eclectic repertoire of work which he believes will continue to enchant their audiences as well as an all inclusive British audience. “We have come a long way from our artistic mission statement, we wanted to say something about redressing” he says. Now we feel that we are at a place where we can leave the really classical indigenous forms of African theatre and now try to embrace theatre forms from both South of the Atlantic, British and Africa.” One of such future productions is its first family Christmas show, planned for 2009 at the Unicorn Theatre.

On his legacy, though he admits there are people he cannot be compared with, like the Oliviers and Branaghs, he simply wants to be remembered as “The man who allowed and found the ability for African theatre to exist within the mainstream British theatre and I want the legacy of Tiata Fahodzi not to die with my departure” he says.

This feature can also be found on the BBC London Website:

Also featured, is an image gallery of Tiata Fahodzi's 10 years in Theatre:

Image: Stephen Cummiskey

New Beginnings

Regarded as Britain’s best-known Black-led theatre company, Talawa Theatre Company is celebrating 21 years on the British theatre landscape with its first full Production in two years - Pure Gold, written by Michael Bhim, an emerging playwright, who is gaining the respect of his contemporaries. Is a renaissance on the horizon for Black-British theatre?

When you first meet Michael Bhim, you get the impression of a quiet and reserved young man. Beneath the exterior of his calm and unruffled personality, he is letting his pen do all the talking that needs to be done as part of a group of young and emerging playwrights in the UK from the Black-British community. At 26 years of age, Bhim’s first full length play, Pure Gold, is currently showing at the Soho Theatre, as a collaborative production of Soho Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company.

Together, Bhim and Talawa are putting Black-British subjects on the UK theatre landscape. Adding to his already budding list of accolades, he was recently nominated for the Meyer Whitworth Award for his short play, Distant Violence, an honour which he say makes “Me feel extremely grateful to the people with tons of experience in this field who have supported me.”

Three years ago, becoming a playwright was a distant thought to Bhim, who dropped out of College but later went back to pursue a (BA) in English and Literature. “It was the last thing I’d ever imagined myself to be. Three years ago, writing was irrelevant in my life, as was theatre” says Bhim. However, the case is now the reverse because Bhim’s second play, which he is currently developing, has also been commissioned by Talawa Theatre Company.

The journey has been a learning curve for Bhim, from the days when he was inspired to write his first play to its first reading at Tiata Delights 2006, a reading festival which celebrates writers of African heritage and organised by Tiata Fahodzi, one of Britain’s foremost British-African theatre companies. Bhim, whose roots stretch to Africa (Zimbabwe) and the Caribbean, and he is quintessentially British, delights in the knowledge that he is an avid observer of his immediate environment. Hence, it is no surprise that Pure Gold, which deals with the themes of fatherhood, poverty and family tensions, and described as a snapshot of Black inner-city life, as a father struggles to provide for his family. Bhim explains he was inspired by “The many people I lived with, in and around inner-city London, watching how our deferred dreams manifested in our daily lives.” He also drew from his personal experiences and family background while writing the script, “Growing up, there was hardly any money, lots of ambitions, good intentions and dreams but no money” he says.

Bhim, credits his life’s experiences as the pool of creative wealth, which has helped him to better understand the importance of character and dialogue in script. “We carry a wealth of cultural history in the way we speak and for me a character is about life’s experience and emotional state” explains Bhim. When he is able to fit these different factors together and imagine what it is like to live a certain way, then he can step into the shoes of the character he wants to create and find the truth.

These are some of the artistic values which were embedded in the script and attracted Pat Cumper, artistic director of Talawa Theatre Company, also an accomplished playwright and one of the UK’s most respected Black writers. “As soon as I read Michael’s play, I knew it was something I wanted to bring to the stage. He writes about the Black British experience in a way that makes it universal and powerful” she explains. The future of the working relationship between Talawa and Bhim was further sealed as Cumper admits being impressed by Bhim’s ability to bring his characters to life. “I was immediately impressed by the complexity of the characters and their relationships, and gave ordinary characters a poetic voice and observed them with great humanity” she says.

As a theatre company, Talawa has taken rest from the public stage in the last two years, gone through a process of re-structuring and is back with its vision of exploring the Black-British experience and finding the voices that tell Black-British stories. It is a period in the company’s history which Cumper believes has allowed them to go back to basics in order to return as, “Re-branded, re-focused and revitalised with a clear mission; to tell Black British stories, nurture the talent to best do so and welcome Black audiences, and audiences for Black work to our productions.”

One way Talawa is developing and nurturing this talent, is through its New Writing programme and has worked with the likes of Derek Walcott and Courttia Newland in times past. The New Writing arm of the company comprises of Talawa Writers Group, Script Development and Script Reading. Bhim has benefited from being a member of Talawa Writers Group, which offers emerging and established playwrights the opportunity to expand on their skills with key industry leaders and present their work in a showcase of play readings. “Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a writer, is to believe in their work and put your money where you mouth is” explains Cumper. This seems to have paid off with Bhim, who credits Cumper for the assistance he received while working with Talawa. “Pat Cumper, the artistic director has been a great pillar of support and encouragement. As a writer herself, she has immense understanding of how to mentor a new writer such as myself” he says.

For Bhim, whose primary aim was “to create a fresh artistic identity for the Black-British image and have people relate to the experience of the overlooked voices in this country.” It looks like his plan has worked with well respected critics like Lyn Gardner of the Guardian newspaper admitting the play has grit to it.

While Cumper and Talawa have plans to keep developing their writers and new writing through stories that reflect Black-British life, she also envisions the future of the company as a bright one with shows across London and the regions Most importantly, she would like “TalawaTheatre Company to have a solid reputation for excellence, and a loyal audience for our work and be a respected part of Britain’s cultural landscape” she explains.

For Bhim, who remembers sitting in Hyde Park not long ago with the script for Pure Gold in his hands after it had been rejected by every theatre but looks back today and is grateful for how uncompromising about what he wrote. It is not strange for every writer to desire their work is produced. As for Bhim, “I no longer worry about the things I can’t control. I’m a writer and I write, that is enough for me.” he says. “If I get the chance to share my thoughts and feelings with the outside world, it is a bonus.”

While recent times has seen a continuous growth in the rise of British Playwrights, from Kwame Kwei-Armah, whose new play, Statement of Regret will be at the National Theatre this November, to Roy Williams, also opening this October with Joe Guy, showing at the Soho Theatre and the added bonus that Pure Gold was a success. It looks like a bright future is indeed in-store for Black-British theatre in the UK.

A version of this feature can also be found at:

Image: Talawa Theatre Company

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Meetings (Arcola Theatre October 2007)

Food serves as a metaphor for the old way of life that Hugh craves. For his wife, Jean, meetings and more meetings is the only way of ensuring she climbs up the ladder in the new corporate world they couple have found themselves.

In 1980s Trinidad, the economy is booming and Hugh and Jean, a high-flying business couple, have every reason to be happy.

But when Nicholai La Barrie as Hugh meets an old woman selling traditional Caribbean food he remembers the meals his mother used to make: he realizes what is missing in his life. Starting with food, Hugh changes his whole way of life. His search for happiness leads him away from swimming pools, a speed boat and Jean.

‘Meetings’ is a darkly comic look at a generation tempted by the fast cars and fast food of the American lifestyle but rooted in a more traditional culture. Their search for an identity, torn between heritage and globalisation, is as recognisable today as it was in the 1980s.

Hugh wants the traditional things in life that his Trinidadian Culture has to offer him; Jean (Inika Leigh-Wright) on the other hand wants a slice of the economic boom in the nation.

Written by Mustapha Matura, who is regarded as one of the finest dramatist of West Indian origin; Meetings is set in Trinidad, his place of birth. It is a play that delves into the loss of cultural heritage and tradition, a clash between the old and the new.

Hugh wants real Trinidadian food, like coo-coo to get back that old feeling of what it means to be home but Jean can’t be bothered to make any because she is too busy with her meetings, a point she reiterates when she tell him, “I’m not ya mother younno,” when her husband makes a point about the kitchen having everything they need except food.

However, his new found appetite for the old way of life is satisfied by Elsa (Davina Anderson), the house-help brought in to help make traditional food for Hugh.

Soon we are faced with class divide as shown through the characters of Elsa and Jean, two different women with separate lives. While Jean has lost sight of her history, Elsa is still very much connected to the old way of life and Hugh has rediscovered his passion for that old way of life, which Jean no longer wants for them as a couple.

Dan Barnard succeeds in his ability to bring to light the questions raised by Matura in this reprised production of Meetings. While it does not tug at you emotionally, it is successful in its ability to provoke thought and question us as individuals about the little things in life which we sometimes take for granted such as family, identity and heritage.

Image: Trini Jungle

Pure Gold (Soho Theatre October 2007)

The blue London skyline serves as the scenic backdrop for Simon’s desire to provide for his family. Written by Michael Bhim and directed by Indhu Rubasingham and the return of Talawa Theatre Company to the stage after two years; Pure Gold is a transparent depiction of the realities of the everyday London life of a man and his struggles to provide for his family.

Simon is doing the best his best to ensure the financial well-being of his family, re-gain the respect of his wife and the approval of his son. However, he also feels cheated by the harsh realities of life that surrounds him, especially the lack of job opportunities.

Faced with limited choices, Simon’s decisions are that of a man who will do whatever it takes to be counted as a man in the eyes of those he loves but will his decisions also cost him the respect he is fighting so hard to gain?

A gritty examination of the daily frustrations of life, which culminates in the domestic violence and abuse hailed at Marsha (Golda Rosheuvel) from Simon (Clarence Smith) with their son, Anthony (Louis Ekoku) caught in the middle.

This bold take on one man's struggles with poverty through the eyes of the up-and-coming playwright, Michael Bhim, is compelling and powerful. His ability to take a subject matter that permeates throughout society as it deals with the everyday life and situation of a family shows great promise for this young writer with his first full length play.

The play brings to the surface questions such as, does money really make you important and is life about the choices we make as it reverts back to the old notion of what makes a man.

Pure Gold is an intense and delightful production for anyone who can understand the challenges and set backs of getting by in today’s fast pace world and reiterates that gold comes at a price. It is a snapshot of life and its present day realities.

Image: Richard H. Smith

Shows Through Time

The stage for all its faults is also a strong place for telling it like it is and having no need to apologise.

I have seen a few productions in the years past, even prevous year that have stayed with me for the right reasons. If you are yet to see 'Da Kink In My Hair', I beg you, make time the next time you find out its in town. It will lift your spirit and make you laugh. Trey Anthony is a prolific writer. She knows how to speak to the heart of women.

They are women telling their stories and they tell a good story that is ebullient and thought-provoking.

'The Brothers' by Angie Lamar, helps to understand how men think.

Now if you have never heard of 'TownShip Stories', one words sums it up, Gritty. Just sheer gritty realism.

There were provocative and powerful.



What Makes Theatre Great?

"I deliberately look for colourful people. They're are very right for theatre. Theatre has to be theatrical" - Lanford Wilson


If you enjoy anything that stimulates the mind then we have something in common. For me, its theatre. There's something about it which makes it so different to other forms of art. Yes, its live, direct and in you face but its the sheer factor that it is life for all its reality, yet it is not real.

Ever wondered what playwrights think about when they create the characters we come to know for those few hours we sit with them, get to know them, sympathise with them and then fall in love with them if we like them. If not, we are more than hapy to see them go to the gallows.

I imagine its like the process of pregnanacy, just less physical and emotional. As a playwright, you carry a character inside you from the stage of conception and then give birth. Same way, you become a lunatic as you hit the keys, puncnhing those words out and soimetimes, you find you have to say those words out loud; inorder to get a feel and rythmn of what they sound like. Guess what, you become a lunatic for them. Poeple even laugh at you and think you have gone crazy. I know, it has happened to me and still does. I talk to myself on the bus and a little while back, a friend asked me why I was having a converstaion with myself? Though my lips were not moving, the characters had me engrossed deep in converstion and I forgot about my immediate surrondings. They had my full and undivided attention.

Same way, an established playright has a relationship with their characters. It is one of the tricks to creating colourful characters. To know them like you know yourself. However, you must also be able to let them breathe and walk on their own. That's why you have to seperate yourself from them and let them tell their story. Like you would let go of your children, when you know its time to stop babysitting them.

Characters are human beings in play, they have a mind and a will. A personality and can their own decisions. They live like we do. They are vicarious about life and if they are dull and boring, they are not afarid to let it show either. Characters are who they are.

Writing my play has meant a lot of thinking and I am yet to scracth the surface of what makes a great masterpeiece. I get nervous that I am might be going down the route of melodrama but if I don't let it flow like it is now, then how will I be able to correct myself and avoid the melodrama I hate in theatre productions?

Time to get back to the paper right before amd write those words ike tomorrow is the day it gives birth to itself on the live stage.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

What's This About?

Now that you can tell without a shadow of doubt, theatre is my second home. Anything live and on stage gets the baby in me kicking. There is something about carrying an idea from its conception stage to the very point where you give birth. The whole process is a beauty, creating characters, giving them a voice, watching them grow and become live characters is unexplainable. You just can't match it.

Writing a stage play to me is the ability to create a world that you believe in, a world you can identify with, a world you have lived in and still live in. Writing is about the writers experiences; it might not be their personal experieince but it is theirs because they lived, witnessed, heard and felt it. It is about using your senses to observe the world around you and bring to life.

I am currently writing a stage play for a proposed dissertation and this blogpage is part of my story to creating a whole new world in the next three months. Starting today, 21 October 2007. What does that mean? Basically, I have the right, power and ability to create a text that you or anyone out there will read and beleive every word of it. At least, I pray and hope so. I also pray you appreciate the slice of life I am able to bring to the table in my own little way. The sum total is for you to agree it is possible.

Along the way, I will learn about Dramatic Action, Climax, Suspense, Characters and Dialogue. It is not a process I take lightly because my audience has entrusted me with the ability to create a work that is truthful to its core. An undiluted version of events from my point of view.

Who is my audience? My audience is anyone that will read this blogpage and my script and is able to interprete it based on their socail and cultural background. This is the point where I tell you that the audience interpretation of any stage work is through the eyes of their own personal experiences. They bring a world and wealth of life to the work and it through that lense, they are able to tell you if you are on point or you wasted your time and their time with your choice of story.

For now, I am going to stop here but I deeply urge you to keep coming back to this page and read as it will be updated regularly. I will tell you about my current work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, bring you previews and reviews of some shows and trust me to tell you more as my stage play develops.

However, I have no intentions of telling you who I am. That doesn't matter. What matters is that this work of creativity creates its own identity.

Torn (July 2007 Arcola Theatre)

Natasha finally meets a man who loves her for who she is after a series of abusive relationships. He helps her to aspire and aim high in life; David brings out the best in her. She is his African Queen but there is just one problem. Natasha is Jamaican and David is Nigerian. A war of cultural tensions between Natasha’s Afro-Caribbean and David’s African heritage ensues and heir love is a taboo to both their cultures.

David’s sister, Kemi (Yetunde Oduwole) is adamant her brother will not be seen with a “Riff Raff or Jamos,” terms used to describe Jamaicans in the play. Natasha’s father, Malcom (Brad Damon) describes Africans as “You people.” The irony of the play is brought head on by Freddie (Chris David Store), the only white character in the play, who tells it like it really is, “They are both black, in 'it?”

Torn brings to the surface, the issues of cultural tensions faced by many, who come from different backgrounds, race and culture, and fall in love with what their race and culture deems to be unacceptable. Yet, they live silently with their pain in order to maintain tradition. It questions our prejudices despite the fact that we are of the same tree, we feel such anger towards each another without any reasoning.

What are those personal issues and perceptions we as individuals ignorantly carry about towards people of the same race and heritage because our culture and country of origin is different to the other? When do we stop living our lives in our past history and start living and loving for today?

A witty writing debut by Femi Oguns, who also gives an outstanding performance as David, the acting is as loud, intense and emotionally charged as the dialogue is hard hitting and humorous.

Torn is a thought-provoking performance which displays our ignorance when it comes to the tool of slavery that was used to separate us and we refuse to let go of our anger towards one another for acts perpetrated against us. A tug of emotions run through you as you sit back and experience the pain the characters feel on stage.

Moreover, Oguns succeeds in ridiculing the lazy liberal view of black Britons as one homogenous community. Impressively, he lets these tensions reveal themselves through everyday detail, notably in a hilarious exchange over the different textures of African and Caribbean hair.

While the play can be accused of hinging on the borderline of melodrama in latter scenes, it dares to raise a subject that the ethnic minority community has gladly ignored for years as it silently ravages through the lives of its children.

The Big White Fog (Almedia Theatre May 2007)

Set in Chicago’s South side in the 1920s, The Big White Fog chronicles the story of the Mason family, headed by Victor Mason (Danny Sapani) as they strive to keep their vision of America dreams alive amid the great depression and the racial divide. Family tensions soon ensue when Victor's commitment to Marcus Garvey’s, Back To Africa Movement begins to cripples their dream as a family. Though the movement proclaims its dedication to the freedom of the black man and envisions a day when all African Americans will be free and go back to Africa, where “The hope and destined fulfilment of the Negro’s dream.”

There are people like Daniel Rogers (Tony Armatrading) who consider it to be a flawed revolution and believes their heritage is right there in America. Victor's insistent on investing his family’s wealth in Marcus Garvey's Black Star Line turns out to be a decision that will cost them more than they would have liked.

Emotionally charged, as tensions run high when each character is forced to face up to the vicissitudes life hands to them. The audience gets a raw deal on the dynamics. Jenny Jules' Ella Mason has no voice in the decision making process of her family as Victor takes charge and wants everyone aboard his ship and his dream of Africa.

Lester Mason (Tunji Kasim) has high hopes of gaining a scholarship to go college but his dreams are dashed when he is refused based on the colour of his skin and is made to sacrifice his future for the family when they run into financial trouble during the depression. The use of subtext within the play gives the characters greater depth. Victor Mason’s relationship with his mother-in-law was deeper than just domestic issues. It was a good portrayal of the strain on relationship within the Black community at the time - where one feels superior to the other due to skin tone, education and financial standing - and this is reflected in the relationship between Victor and Daniel.

The Big White Fog was written in 1937 by Theodore Ward, who died in 1983 and this landmark family drama reveals how these battling factions fare during this raw and vivid period in American history.

Novella Nelson's Martha Brooks is the matriarch of the family and Wanda Mason (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the granddaughter who wants more from life and believes getting an education is a waste because it will get her nowhere in America as long as you are black. “There’s nothing in this country for a Negro girl to look forward to, and you know it as well as I.”

The play is set in the living room of the Masons, giving a homely and cosy feel to the production and the audience is made to feel like they are right in the middle of the action as each scene unfolds. The depiction of the grandmother sewing and Ella shelling real peas was an interesting way of bringing the real world onto the stage. Giving a platform to explore the interaction between the women and men during that time in history and the situations they faced up to.

While the play is a delight to watch as it gives you a glimpse of past life, it also makes you question if Ward’s observation of life in the 1920s has left America today. Is life still a ‘Big White Fog?’

Image: Catherine Ashmore

African Snow (Trafalgal Studios May 2007)

John Newton is famously known as the London-born slave trader who repented of his involvement in selling slaves, and gave the world one of its most popular Christian hymns, ‘Amazing Grace.’

Today, he is back in a starring role as himself in African Snow. A contemporary theatrical production chronicling the life of Olaudah Equiano or as he was by his slave name, given by his slave masters, Gustavus Vassa, based on his book, ‘The Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano.’ A book that proved immensely popular during the anti-slavery campaign.

Intensely powerful and moving with Israel Oyelumade in the role of Equiano and Roger Alborough in the role of John Newton, two men whose paths cross; one as a slave and the other a slave trader. Interestingly, the play is set in Newton’s thought and imagination and the supposed imaginary meeting between both men gives Equiano the opportunity to question Newton.

The confrontation between both men makes Newton, the guilt-ridden and shamed slave trader, look inward and examine his life as he seeks forgiveness for his past actions.

These scenes create the emotional backdrop for the whole play. Newton describes himself as “I was ignorantly happy” explaining fulfilment from been a slaver until his conscience begins to nag him. What transpires next was powerful enough to show the audience where both men were at different points in the play and their individual journey.

In between are monologues by Equiano to give the audience a better understanding of his story and the opportunity to experience the ills he suffered; the name calling; the beatings for refusing the name given to him by his slave masters, the pain he carries for being separated from his sister as well as his tenacity to stay and fight until he won his freedom.

However there are also points in the play where these monologues break one’s concentration from the action on stage.

African Snow raises questions about slavery, the treatment of slaves, forgiveness, justice and freedom. When Equiano asks the question, “What is freedom?” He also tells the audience, “The moment I learnt to spell the word freedom; it was like a phoenix on my heart. Freedom cannot wait.” Symbolic of what the play is about, an introspective take on freedom.

The energy on stage is further heightened by the music of Ben Okafor whose score for the play evokes emotions in both characters and audience. There is rather a lot of shouting and screaming on stage but the ship contraption on stage to show the lives of the slaves was rather impressive and gave the play an element of authenticity.

Image: Riding Lights Theatre Company

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (National Theatre March 2007)

A work of collaboration between Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead had its first performance in 1972. Thirty-five years on and directed by Aubrey Sekhabi, it takes you back to the old South Africa and sits you right in the heat of apartheid.

It starts off with an unsual but engaging monologue by John Kani in the role of Styles, a photographer who takes delight in recordinbgt the stories of his people and makes them happy even if it is for a day. Styles decision to open a photographic studio was because of his experience working at a car factory. He searched himself and asked questions about his life. “Is that it, is that what my life is about. Nothing but a white mans’s boy,” reiterating the deep rooted issues of racism and segregation of the apartheird era in the old South Africa.

Kani’s ability to deliver Stlyes candid monologue with humour, sarcasm, brillance and sadness and of course, Kani’s unforgettable laughter commands the attention of the audience. His energy on stage and use of space, running from one end to the other to tell Styles story and interacting with the audience, makes you want more. It goes without saying that Kani’s ability to be animated in his multiple roles within this monologue, first as the boss of the factory (Mr Bass), the interpreter and as one of the workers reminds you that he is a formidable actor. Styles photographic studio in the play is symbolic of a man’s desire to be his own boss and it is a strong room of dreams. The dreams of his people; those who will never be known, it is about preserving their history.

However, the arrival of Robert Zelinzima (Winston Ntshona) at Styles studio soon turns the tide of the story. From here on, the audience is allowed to experience the division and inequality that existed in the old South Africa between whites and blacks. Where a man’s ability to work, care for his family and survive was dependant on a pass book. Robert’s passbook prohibits him to remain in Port Elizabeth where the play is set. His dreams of caring for his family calls into question, everything he belives in, especially his identity. Port Elizabeth is the place where the number of a man’s passbook is more important than his name and the colour of his skin is trouble. It also questions the value of a name when it is of no use to you.

Kani once again shines in the role of Robert’s mentor in the second half; a man who has learnt to survive in difficult circumstances. Robert has to give up his name and identity to take on that of a dead man in order to remain in Port Elizabeth and work. He is no longer Sizwe Banzi as soon as he takes on the identity of a corpse and just like the dead man, Sizwe Banzi is dead.

Winston Ntshona, regarded as one of South Africa’s finest and most distinguished actors alongside Kani revive this classic whose similarities to life today in the new South Africa is not very far off.

Image: National Theatre

Weights (The Blue Elephant Theatre March 2007)

When you cannot leave and do not have much to look forward to, you become a prisoner of the State. Set in the slums of Havana Cuba, Weights, depicts a day in the life of five Cubans; the artist, the prostitute, the wife and her husband; the boxer. A dreamer who sits by the phone all day long, waiting for that one phone call that will change his life and the old man, who smokes more than he has strength to look forward to life and waiting for the inevitable, death.

Written by Jesse Quinones and directed by David Mercatali; together they tell a story of lost dreams and hopes, feelings of entrapment by the citizens of a nation and the ills that face ordinary day to day Cubans. Who are looking for a way of escape, yet it seems so elusive. Vineeta Rushi in the role of Guapa the prostitute offers herself to the foreigners because she has no choice, that’s all she knows to do in order to survive. It is a vicious cycle and Geoff Aymer in the role of Viejo, the elderly man is a reminder to the younger generation of what their life will turn out to be. Their lives are intertwined by a cord of stifled dreams. According toSonador the painter, played by George Couyas, “We are all yet dreamers and I’m the biggest of all.”

Great attempts to show the pain of these characters results in a dense dialogue that lacks humour to ease the audience into the story and there are moments when you feel there is more smoking on stage than acting. Characters slip in and out of their ability to maintain the use of a Cuban ascent. While theatre is not just about evoking pain, you do feel the characters could have been infused with more emotions to show the depth of their anger at the sour taste of life they have to endure.

Image: Blue Elephant Theatre

Nothing But The Truth (Hampstead Theatre Febuary 2007)

Sipho Makhaya’s (John Kani) dream is to one day, become the chief librarian. However, the arrival of Tenbo his exiled brother in a jar filled with ashes begins to unearth family secrets that have long been buried. Set in Port Elizabeth, Nothing But The Truth is an in-depth and subtle examination of family, sibling rivalry, truth, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation and the compassion of the human soul when it has been wronged. It mirrors the struggles of Sipho Makhaya’s to come to terms with the injustice he believes he has suffered at the hands of other’s; the loss of his wife, the death of his son and being passed up for a job against the society he lives in.

In the scene leading up to the secrets and lies of the family, Sipho reiterates the words “The taking never stops”, showing his hurt and bruised heart but for the sake of his daughter he has let sleeping dogs lie until this moment when he decides to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Emotionally charged with the pain Sipho and his daughter, Thando have carried for years but never talked about until the arrival of Mandisa Mackay, Tenbo’s daughter. It is equally laced with witty humour. Nothing But The Truth shows the weaknesses in a man that has been pushed too far and can fight back when he gets the courage from within to change his situation. Sipho Makahaya’s family represent the new South Africa and as they come to terms with their issues as a family it gives the audience the opportunity to see how society deals with the ills and atrocities its own people have committed against each other.

Written by John Kani, he also gives an astounding performance resonant with his other works in Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island which catapulted him to international acclaim. His co-stars Motshabi Tyele in the role of Sipho’s daughter (Thando Makhaya) is a playwright and an award winning actress in South Africa. Rosie Motene, Sipho’s niece (Mandisa Mackay) whose other works include Hotel Rwanda and The Other Woman both bring an emotional balance to Sipho’s life which he lost years ago. Janice Honeyman directs a flawless piece which reflects both her and Kani’s understanding of The Truth and Reconciliation Committee in the process of rebuilding a country torn apart by the actions of its own citizens.

Nothing But The Truth is truly a thought-provoking performance of humanity, compassion, justice and freedom. At the same time symbolic of the reconciliation between the old and new South Africa. It reminds the audience about the personal loss of individuals during the apartheid era of South Africa.

A tug of emotions run through as you sit back and want to hear more from the characters because you get the feeling that there is more to come. Though the play could have done with a few more characters to tell us about other families; Nothing But The truth is a delight to watch.

Image: Hampstead Theatre

Generations (Young Vic March 2007)

When you walk into the room, you are greeted by an effusive sound from a 14 strong South African choir led by the award winning artist, Pauline Malefane. The choir members gladly show you to your seat and instantly, you become part of the play. The chairs for seating are not your average theatre seats either. Rather, they are plastic crates for mineral drinks put on top each other to ensure the right height for those sitting on them. The audience is fully entertained before the show begins with tempestuous hand clapping, singing and the voices take you to South Africa. The shrilling of voices soon stops and you are taken on a journey to experience the pain deeply rooted in the hearts of its people; the ravaging effects of the Aids virus claiming a whole generations.

Generations, a new play by Debbie Tucker Green focuses on three generations of a South African Family and their sad struggle with the force of death greater than them. What do you when you loose your teenage granddaughters and your daughter to a disease that has ravaged your country? Though there is no mention of the words Aids or HIV in the 30 minutes this play runs. The poetic, evocative and solemn nature of loosing those you love to a force you have no control over makes you think about generations being lost to the disease.

The stage is set to reveal a cooking dynasty, who love to cook and eat together and in their history, cooking has been the way the men got to the women’s hearts. The gas cooker, fridge and washing sink are all in the middle and you can see the flame as it engulfs the air when the pots are opened.

The words are poetical and in a sense lyrical, “The talent to touch a little of sweetness” and “I was the cooker – you was the cookless – I was the cooker who coached the cookless. I coached you to cook – “all add an element of life and sweetness to Generations.

While it succeeds in asking questions and answering none about what is happening to our generations, you do feel the story could have been developed more to show more of the devastating effects of the silent killer known as HIV.

Image: Tristram Kenton

Gone Too Far - Who am I? (Royal Court Theatre Febuary 2007)

When I got the email for this production, I liked the title and theme of the play. Experiencing it on the other hand was fantastic. Written by an aspiring playwright like myself, I have to commend her for being brave to put her pen to paper. Well done Bola Agbaje.

A story of self-identification and respect, the question to the audience was who are you and what do you think of yourself and heritage? Are you ashamed of your roots or the fact that you have a name that can break one's jaw as they try to pronounce it? If you are African, you most likely have had the expereince of people murdering your surname but does that change who you are?

With a few characters, Bola brings life in South London to the stage. She captures two cultures, British and African-Caribbean and the challenge of fitting into both for young British born Africans and Afro-Caribbeans. The story tells you the rites of passage story about a group of teenagers trying to find themselves; Kudiyasi, Yemi, Armani, Blazer and their friends in the hood or should that be estate? I guess the bottomline of the play was in order to find yourself and know who you are; you must first respect yourself and all that you stand for. It sure is a CATCH22.

Though it could have done with a less repetition in certain scenes, it was an excellent production.

Image: Marc Brenner

So We Begin

This is simply my way of ranting on and on about my passion for theatre. I want you to come back everyday and see what's going on right here. This is where its all happening. You will hear about the Royal Shakespeare Company, the London theatre landscape and I'll also tell you about a project I am working on.

There is so much to do, so what are we waiting for? Let's get started, it is going to be one heck of a ride. I promise.

To start off, I will tranfer all previous post from a different page I have been working on. However, the material on that page is more relevant to this page as one dedicated solely to theatre musings.

Watch this space!!!!