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AN INTERVIEW WITH FEMI ELUFOWOJU

 

By Uchenna Izundu

 

Thursday, July 30, 2009.

 

Tiata Delights, an annual celebration of African playwrights and music, will be at the Almedia Theatre from Jul. 28-Aug.1. It will feature a reading of the medical thriller ‘The Golden Hour’ by British Zimbabwean playwright Michael Bhim and a musical line up headlined by The Ganda Boys (recently seen in the BBC series Moses Jones).

 

The festival has brought emerging writers such as Levi David Addai, Lucian Msamati, and Lizzy Dijeh into mainstream theatres across London. Femi Elufowoju, Jr., the artistic director of British African theatre company Tiata Fahodzi, is behind the initiative and tells Uchenna Izundu why it’s important to showcase African talent to an all inclusive British audience.

 

The play is a ‘Zimbabwean thriller’ set in London, and aims to disturb rather than reassure. Adrian is a British-Zimbabwean working as a triage nurse in a London hospital. Suddenly he finds himself in a drama of ethics and loyalty when he encounters an African baby who he suspects has been brought into the country illegally. It is also a great chance to see a powerhouse cast present this play, amongst who we have Annette Badland, Simone Lahbib, and the exquisite Wil Johnson (Waking the Dead).

 

Michael Bhim is one of those rare young writers who cleverly conveys through his medium, complex psychological chapters of the human condition, which engages his readers rather than perturb. My task as director is made much more exciting and easier when I can take his narrative and refashion it into a fascinating theatrical spectacle that thrills the audience and simultaneously serves the writer's vision.

 

I moved into directing because my observations of the British theatre landscape in the mid-90's was limited to a strong classical repertoire sprinkled with a dash of Caribbean influenced Black theatre. African theatre was non-existent in the mainstream, in the fringe and in the grass root community. In 1995 I received a phone call from Mehmet Ergen, then artistic director of Southwark Playhouse, to contribute to the global Africa 95 initiative; the resulting play San Cassimally's Acquisitive Case changed my life. But, it was the subsequent invitation from Philip Hedley, then at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, which empowered me with real main stage opportunities and enabled me to form Tiata Fahodzi as a litmus experiment to test my ambitions

 

My favourite experience with Tiata Fahodzi was in Dalston in 2004. The setting was Arcola Theatre and it was the inaugural year with the Tiata Delights format. We kicked off with an evening of food and speeches and then treated a mammoth audience to 20 minutes of Oladipo Agboluaje's The Road Taken. Simply unforgettable. Both the company and I had just returned from a year of 'healing' and 'professional therapy'. My previous productions of Sammy (Tiata Fahodzi) and Medea (West Yorkshire Playhouse) were challenging periods of creativity and had set us back considerably in terms of planning for the future. Turning the corner in Dalston that year has to be the elixir of our time.

 

As a teenager in Nigeria, I listened to Michael Jackson and his brothers. I went home with my parents in 1974, and packed Gary Glitter, the Osmonds, Slade, and the J5 in my suitcase. Of course the Highlife, Juju and Shrine pulses from King Sunny Ade, Sir Ebenezer Obey, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti soon eclipsed my Western influences - but it was very difficult exorcising the musical resonances of Michael from my membrane. I ended up staging all of his early music videos for the theatre at university proms. We'll be paying homage to Jackson at the concert in true African style; each artists performing a separate rendition from the Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous albums.”

 

Uchenna Izundu is a London-based journalist, editor and writer. She co-chairs Aspire, a support network for Black and minority ethnic journalists in the UK. 

 

The Golden Hour is at the Almeida Theatre from 29 to 31 July at 7.30pm

 

The Concert of African Music is on Aug. 1 at 8pm

Address: Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, London, N1 1TA

 

Info: 020 7359 4404 to book your tickets or email boxoffice@almeida.co.uk with your phone number and they will contact you. Book tickets through http://www.almeida.co.uk/festival/default.aspx

 

 

The Golden Hour is at the Almeida Theatre from 29 to 31 July at 7.30pm

 

The Concert of African Music is on Aug. 1 at 8pm

Address: Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, London, N1 1TA

 

Info: 020 7359 4404 to book your tickets or email boxoffice@almeida.co.uk with your phone number and they will contact you.

Book tickets through www.almeida.co.uk/festival/default.aspx

 

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