GEOFF AYMER BRINGS BACK OUR FAVOURITE FOLKLORE HERO
Interview by Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Tuesday, February 17, 2009.
West African-Caribbean and African American folk hero Anansi is back for another run in London, courtesy of Talawa Theatre Productions. With the trickster's misadventures last seen in Anansi Trades Places in 2008, rehearsals are almost over before Anansi and the Magic Mirror begins at Hackney Empire.
Written by actor, comedian and writer Geoff Aymer, who played the lead last time, the show reunites Anansi stalwarts Susan Lloyd Reynolds, recently seen as Pinky in The Harder They Come and director Paul J Medford (Hair, Five Guys Named Moe, Eastender)].
”It’s a nice cast, with a good director and everything is coming along nicely,” says Aymer an experienced performer who has done stand-up comedy on his own, and as part of the Aymer and Powell duo. Aymer has also appeared on British television in The Real McKoy and The A Force, and in straight acting roles, including Anaora Nwandu’s 2007 film Rag Tag.
This time Kat B plays Anansi, joined by Tameka Empson and Marcus Powell.
Aymer said: “I’ve worked with Marcus (Powell) loads of times, I worked with Tameka in The Big Life, and I worked with Kat in a production of The Wiz at Hackney Empire; Lawson-Reynolds who I’ve also worked with, is playing the baddie, amongst other roles."
So with a shared history between the performers, the writer has approached writing the story differently to performing in the show.
“I thought of Anansi as character everyone knows. I didn’t write it how I would play it all; some of the actors played it how I imagined it, others are doing it in a completely different way,” he says.
Although usually seen in the pantomime season, the playwright highlights the well-loved folk hero’s place in African-Caribbean storytelling heritage.
“The overall gist is that Anansi messes with forces that he shouldn’t mess with. He messes with Obeah and gets himself and the whole animal kingdom into a lot of trouble”.
As to attracting new and young and old audience, he points to the success of films such as Shrek or Finding Nemo. “Even though Anansi might be based on a story from hundreds of years ago, there are modern day references that people will still get. I’ve tried to do that with the storytelling. I’m hoping that there will be jokes for everyone. Hopefully the magic makes it a bit scary... kids like to be scared and adults as well.”
Having also written the lyrics and music for Anansi and The Magic Mirror the versatile Aymer has sharpened another skill.
”It’s hard work but when you see it performed you feel really good about that. I’ve tried to throw as much variety into the pot as necessary - keeping in mind that it is Anansi - an African Caribbean tradition.”
Part of both Talawa's and the Oval House Theatre's Writers Groups, Aymer is not conflicted about which side of the stage he contributes. But he does recognise the challenges.
“I really like acting and writing in equal measure; in terms of the writing - it’s stressful because you have to produce material out of nothing; and I feel responsible for what people are watching on stage, if it doesn’t work, it’s my fault,” he says.
Acknowledging the precarious life of an actor, and his future projects Aymer - whose plays have been performed at Hackney Empire, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Blue Elephant Theatre - asserts confidently that: “People always need good scripts; I might try and write stuff that I can be in.”
As to Anansi and The Magic Mirror he’s happy to stay on the writers side of the stage.
Shaun Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.
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