Thursday, 23 July 2009

I'm An African Playwright and I'm Cool Like That!

One of the perks of being an arts journalist is the very fact that you get to see theatre productions, exhibitions, gigs among many other things and you go for free. For me, that's great but the freebies aside, I appreciate when a theatre production has substance to it. Lately, I have enjoyed the very fact that my passion for African theatre has been re-ignited. I have seen some great productions this year. From Iya-Ile at the Soho theatre to Wole Soyinka's, Death and The King's Horsemen at the National. It has been a big splash of African theatre on the British theatre landscape.

Even the Independent newspaper acknowledged that it was cool to do African theatre. 'Out of Africa: Award-winning African plays find a new home in British theatres' Give it Up!

It isn't the accolades or recognition that has me rooting for African theatre. I would like to interject at this point and tell you that I am a very proud African lady living in London.

So, let's continue. What has re-ignited my passion is the very fact that we are telling our stories, we are able to laugh at ourselves, our nuances and idiosyncrasies. At the same time, we are creating platforms to have a debate and discussion about the motherland. We are taking a mirror and putting it up to examine the good, the bad and the ugly and please don’t forget the struggles.

I saw Bad Blood Blues at Theatre Royal, Stratford. It was a production about the HIV anti-viral trials in Africa and the load of horseshit bureaucracy that goes into who gets the anti-vial and who gets the trial drug and who gets nothing at all. I had to ask myself, how important is an African life compared to other parts of the world when it comes to tackling the HIV/Aids virus?

Karoo Moose by Lara Foot-Newton, a South African playwright was so good; I remember using the word 'Ingenious' when the birth of a child was depicted by a young lady coming out of a drum. It was so symbolic and at the same time powerful. It was traditional theatre full of magical realism at its best and there was no dull moment. Death and The Kings Horsemen by Wole Soyinka was outstanding. My history was on stage and it was great that they kept it very traditional. Nothing like talking drums to make you sway from side to side.

I could go on and on about the shows I have seen this year but I'm sure you might think, okay, go on, say what you really want to say.

So, here it is. It is okay to write about African theatre and not be afraid of expressing what you feel or want to say about being African. I know some writers are nervous when they start out about boxing themselves but today, a young African dramatist told me in the course of an interview, I am an African Playwright. I was impressed by that. Often, you get some saying, I am a playwright full stop. And yes, that is valid also because labels do stick. But there is nothing wrong with it if you decide to be identified by your heritage and body of work. After all, you are writing about Africa and Africans in the diaspora. So, why can't we call you an African Playwright?

Picture Credit: Ruphin Coudyzer