PREVIEW: LONDON VIA LAGOS THEATRE FESTIVAL
By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Saturday, May 28, 2011.
They say that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And the highly anticipated London via Lagos season of new writing at Oval House Theatre lived up to this adage with the abrupt decision days before it's premiere to cancel the first in the trio of new plays. Co-produced with British-African drama company, Spora Stories, London via Lagos brings to the stage the myriad historical and contemporary connections between Britain and Nigeria as well the growing influence of writers of Nigerian descent on British theatre.
The pulling of Pandora's Box by Ade Solanke was announced with the catch all explanation of "creative differences" between the writer and director Ben Evans. It's emerged that the spat erupted when the Director proposed using prison cells and bars as visual imagery - an idea vehemently opposed by the playwright. Disputes between writers and directors are not unusual in the sensitive world inhabited by creative types - but it is rare to have a play pulled days before it's premiere. Result being in this case - one frustrated writer, an anti-climax for performers getting ready to do their thing, and an audience left without their entertainment. As if that's not enough, the post show discussion on the challenges of the education system for parents and children of African descent has been postponed as well. With contributions expected from campaigners it would have been an important forum to address important issues about education and Black children.
The remaining two plays in the Festival should create a more positive atmosphere however. Up and coming actor and writer Arinze Kene showcases his triptych of monologues on the transition from adolescence to adulthood in Little Baby Jesus; and one-time journalist and current Plaines Plough playwright-in-residence Lydia Adetunji turns a spotlight on the conflicts of interests which can develop when oil, money and global political interests collide in Fixer.
As for Pandora's Box the writer has vowed to find another venue and director to collaborate with; nd hopefully we’ll get a chance to see what all the fuss was about.
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.
The London via Lagos Festival
Little Baby Jesus by Arinze Kene
Directed by Ché Walker
Wednesday 25 May 2011 - Wednesday 15 June 2011
Fixer by Lydia Adetunji
directed by Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe
Tuesday 21 June 2011 - Sunday 10 July, 2011
Oval House Theatre
52-54, Kennington Oval
London SE11 5SW
Box office 020 7582 7680
Book online www.ovalhouse.com (no fee)
A response to this preview from Ade Solanke:
thanks for the recent article about the London via Lagos Festival in
thenewblackmagazine, which raises several important issues surrounding
the cancellation of my play, Pandora's Box.
was immensely disappointed and saddened by Oval House Theatre and BE
Creative's decision to cancel the production after the abrupt
resignation of the director.
I'm sorry that your correspondent, Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson, did not attempt to contact
me before publishing the story. Had he done so, I would gladly have clarified the following:
The play was not cancelled due to creative differences. I had indeed
expressed concerns about the bars visual effect his article mentioned,
but waived them in order for the production to proceed. The play was
cancelled in spite of this.
resigned from the production a week before we were due to open.
Rehearsals were cancelled by the theatre even before he'd resigned,
even though I and the cast were willing to continue with the play. The
cast wrote to the theatre asking to save the show, as indeed I did.
I also explain, the bars visual image was being put in a front room,
the setting for the play. I saw no connection between a play with an
all-black cast set in Africa and anything to do with bars. Bars speak
to me of cages or cells. The play is about educated Africans wrestling
with parenting dilemmas, not inmates or animals. However, given the
hard work and considerable public money already invested, I agreed to
the set after the director resigned, in order to save the show. We
don't get many African plays in London. As concerned as I was, I heeded
the basic notion, 'the show must go on!'
The creative differences were thus resolved a week before we were due to open. However, I was told it was "too late."
As Spora Stories, I clearly would not conspire to cancel my own play.
The director is also the co-producer, BE Creative. Until last year, he
was the director of theatre at Oval House, which may have meant he had
more influence with them than me. He and Oval insisted on cancelling in
spite of my protests.
5) The debate/ forum
referred to in the article was organised by me. I had no interest in
cancelling it, and considered it as vital as the play in raising and
exploring the issue of educating British-African kids. Diane Abbott MP,
Olu Alake, President of 100 Black Men, Dr Osita Okagbue of Goldsmiths
College, Pastor Nims Obunje of
Freedoms Ark, Prof Gus John, had all accepted invitations to
participate. I wanted the debate to go on as much as I wanted the play
to go on, and fought hard to save both.
6) It's possible I made too much of a fuss about the set issue, but I would never have imagined a negotiation about a set would lead to a resignation or a show cancellation in a professional theatre production. Such differences of opinion are common. And surely your readers will understand my desire to positively reflect British-African life without drawing on stereotypes?
There are black parents all over England trying desperately to save
their kids from the pitfalls in our society. I wanted to put them on
stage instead of the 'hoodies' we usually see. I felt, and feel, they
deserved to be presented without discordant imagery. It
Box had a fantastic cast and I was privileged to work on the London via
Lagos Festival with two very talented British-Nigerian playwrights. I
wish them and the Festival every success.
Thank you again for raising the issues. I'd
like to keep you posted on our plans to reschedule Pandora's Box.
I hope you, your correspondent and your readers will come support
'Pandora's Box' when we have the right director and the right venue on
board. I'm confident this will be soon.
See you there!