Talawa Theatre Company
Contributor: Nisha Obano
Talawa, which means ‘small but feisty’ in Jamaican English is a theatre company founded in 1986 by Yvonne Brewster, Carmen Munroe, Mona Hammond and Inigo Espejel. Galvanised by the existence of other black theatre companies at the time – Temba, Black Theatre Cooperative (later Nitro) and Tara Arts – Brewster et al successfully applied for a grant from Ken Livingstone’s Labour-led Greater London Council (GLC) Race Equality Unit. After receiving £80,000 they were able to cover the cost of their first production, The Black Jacobins, by C L R James in 1986. This play, about the Haitian Revolution of 1971–1804, had not been performed in England for fifty years and never with an all-black cast. During the same year, Yvonne Brewster directed An Echo in the Bone by Dennis Scott, which was then followed by the European premier of O Babylon! by Derek Walcott and Galt McDermot in 1988.
In over twenty-five years, Talawa has seen through more than forty productions by a range of writers from Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde, although the focus of their output is on works by established African and Carbbean writers, such as Wole Soyinka, James Baldwin, Michael Abbensetts, Trevor Rhone and emerging voices like Michael Bhim and Bola Agbaje.
Not simply a production company, Tawala also has an educational and outreach component to develop the talents of emerging writers. The company runs an annual season of playreadings showcasing Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) plays which are looking for full production. The Talawa Writers Group (TWG) which began in 2005 has provided a forum for writers like Kwame Kwei Armah, Malorie Blackman, Roy Williams, Michael Bhim, Rex Obano and Bola Agbaje, some of whose works have then gone on to feature in Unzipped, a showcase for the group’s output. Flipping the Script ran from 2008 until 2011, in which promising writers and directors are paired and their work is produced on stage. And 2012 saw the beginning of Talawa Firsts, a series of workshops led by Michael Buffong. Talawa also works with schools and community groups via the Talawa Young People’s Theatre (TYPT) which was set up in 2003.
Talawa’s fortunes have varied over the years. In 1992, Talawa moved from the Africa Centre in Covent Garden to a residency at the Cochrane Theatre. Then in 1995 Talawa began what would become a ten-year search for a home for black theatre. In 2003, when this project did not result in a new building, Yvonne Brewster left the company and the director Paulette Randall eventually took over until 2005. Between 2006 and 2012, the Artistic Directorship was held by Patricia Cumper until the company was severely hit by cuts in Arts Council funding, a period which saw the closure of many similar theatre organisations. Talawa is now headed by the actor and director Michael Buffong, whose aims for the company include taking the TWG to South Africa and collaborating with writers and theatre practitioners there.
The Black Jacobins by C L R James. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Norman Beaton, Jenny Jules, Brian Bovell, Mona Hammond, Jean Hart, Trevor Laird, Doyne Byrd, Dominic Hawksley, Ian Collier, Keith Hazemore, Kwabena Manso, Gary McDonald, Bob Phillips, Doyle Richmond, Chris Tajah, Nik Abraham, Malcolm Connell, Kathy Daniel, David Haynes, Lenny Algernon Edwards and Gideon Rogers. Riverside Studios, London: 21 Feb. to 15 Mar. 1986.
An Echo in the Bone by Dennis Scott. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Joanne Campbell, Kwabena Manso, Gary McDonald, Faith Tingle, Mona Hammond, Allister Bain, Ellen Thomas, Lenny Algernon Edwards, Leo Wringer and Malcolm Frederick. Drill Hall, London: 26 June to 19 July 1986.
O Babylon! by Derek Walcott and Galt McDermot. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. William Vanderpuye, Sharon D Clarke, Trevor Ward, Geraldine Connor, Jason Rose, Patrick Cameron, Marcia Johnson, McKell Pendercuse, Adetomiwa Edun, Steven Woodcock, Clifton Bryan, Tony Marshall, Roger Griffiths, Lenny Algernon Edwards, Josephine Melville, Mona Hammond, Malcolm Connell, Sheilah Cuffey and Sandra Tavernier. Riverside Studios, London: 4 Feb. to 12 Mar. 1988.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Co. Production Tyne Theatre Company. Tyne Theatre and Opera House, Newcastle: 19 Apr. to 13 May 1989. Bloomsbury Theatre, London: 15 to 27 May 1989. Cork Opera House, Cork: 19 to 24 June 1989.
The Gods Are Not to Blame by Ola Rotimi. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Tyrone Huggins, Jason Rose, Faith Edwards, Ian Roberts, Delmonzene Morris, Taiwo Payne, Sandra Yaw, Jeffrey Kissoon, Mo Sesay, Susan Aderin, Charlton Chance and Leonie Forbes. Riverside Studios, London: 31 Oct. to 25 Nov. 1989.
The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Cyril Nri, Nicholas Boyce, Jacqui Chan, Shelley King, Geff Francis, Trevor Marshall-Ward, Anni Domingo, Dhirendra, Oscar James, Laura Beckford and Susan Aderin. Theatre Royal Stratford East, London: 29 June to 4 Aug. 1990.
Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Co-production with Merseyside Everyman Theatre. Perf. Jeffrey Kissoon, Dona Kroll and Ben Thomas. Bloomsbury Theatre, London: 16 May to 15 June 1991.
The Road by Wole Soyinka. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Lenny Aljernon Edwards, Willie Jonah, Ben Thomas, Cyril Nri, Steve Aston, Gregory Munroe A yanbode Olwole and David Webber. Cochrane Theatre, London: 26 Feb. to 28 Mar. 1992.
Smile Orange by Trevor Rhone. Dir. Trevor Rhone. Perf. Dona Kroll, Robert McKewley, Raul Newney, Eamonn Walker and David Webber. Cochrane
Theatre, London: 28 Apr. to 30 May 1992.
The Love Space Demands by Ntozake Shange. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Talvin Wilks and Ntozake Shange. Cochrane Theatre, London: 1 to 31 Oct. 1992.
Necklaces by Tariq Ali. Dir. Topher Campbell. Perf. Pamela Nomvette, Jude Akuwudike, Syreeta Kumar, Ashen Bhatti, Peggy Phango and Paula Stockbridge. Cochrane Theatre, London: 6 to 31 Oct. 1992.
Arawak Gold by Carmen Tipling and Ted Dwyer. Adapted by Yvonne Brewster. Dir. Brewster. Perf. Oscar James, Peter Dineen, Eve Ferret, David Prescott and Bill Monks, Antonia Coker, Janice Acqua, Eddie Osei, Clive Llewellyn, Perry Douglin, Andrea Whiting and David Carr. Cochrane Theatre, London: 9 Dec. 1992 to 16 Jan. 1993.
From the Mississippi Delta by Dr Endesha Ida Mae Holland. Dir. Annie Castledine. Perf. Joy Richardson, Pauline Black and Josette Bushell-Mungo. Cochrane Theatre, London: 1 Apr. to 1 May 1993.
The Lion by Michael Abbensetts. Dir. Horace Ove. Perf. Madge Sinclair, Colette Brown, David Webber, Stefan Kalipha and Danny Kwasi Sapani. Cochrane Theatre, London: 30 Sept. 23 to 23 Oct. 1993. Ward Theatre, Kingston, Jamaica: 3 to 13 Nov. 1993.
King Lear by William Shakespeare. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Ben Thomas, Dhirendra, Lolita Chakrabarti, Mona Hammond, Diane Parish, Cathy Tyson, David Webber, David Harewood, David Presscott and Greta Mendez NIA Centre, Manchester: 24 to 26 Feb. 1994. Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple: 2 to 3 Mar. 1994. Oxford Playhouse, Oxford: 8 to 12 Mar. 1994. Cochrane Theatre, London: 16 Mar. to 16 Apr. 1994.
Resurrections by Biyi Bandele. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Angela Wynter, Ben Thomas, Femi Elufowofu Jr, Antonia Coker, Ganiat Kasumu, Trevor Laird, Colin McFarlane, Don Warrington and Anni Domingo. Cochrane Theatre, London: 28 Sept. to 29 Oct. 1994.
‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Don Warrington, Sam Adams, Simon Clayton, Andrew Dennis, Jim Findley, Ginny Holder, Alan Igbon, Stephen Persaud, Hassani Shapi, Amanda Symonds. Lyric Hammersmith, London: 1 to 18 Nov. 1994.
Maskerade by Syliva Wynter and Olive Lewin. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Cy Grant, Karl Collins, Antonia Coker, Hazel Holder, Femi Elufowoju Jnr, Allister Bain, Isira Makuloluwe, Chad Shepherd, Angela Wynter and Jamal Browne. Cochrane Theatre, London: 9 Dec. 1994 to 14 Jan. 1995.
Blues For Mister Charlie by James Baldwin. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Barnaby Kay, Michael Price, Ray Shell, Kwesi Asiedu-Mensah, Marcus Hercules, Eke Chukwu, Albie Parsons, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Sylvano Clarke, Junior Laniyan, Rolf Saxon, Ruth Grey, Larrington Walker, Ellen Sheean, Mhairi Steenbock, Elizabeth Hurran, Roger Barclay, Leland Burnett, Richard Howard, Sam Hazeldine. New Wolsey Theatre/ Tricycle Theatre, London: 1 to 18 Nov. 1995.
Zebra Crossing 1 by Dorothea Smartt, Sherlee Mitchell, Henrik Ibsen, Amanda Symonds, Warren Wills, Ronald Fraser-Munro, Kole Onile-Ere and Sol B River. Perf. Dorothea Smartt, Aileen Gonavles, Gilly Gilchrist, Ronald Fraser-Munro, Mona Hammond, Amanda Symonds and Aileen Gonalves. Young Vic Studio, London: 19 Feb. to 30 Mar. 1996.
Medea in the Mirror by José Triana. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Jason James Pethers, Dominic Letts, Angela Wynter, Sharon D Clarke, Faith Tingle and Jacqueline Mason. Brixton Shaw Theatre, London: 27 June to 27 July 1996.
Beef No Chicken by Derek Walcott. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Faith Tingle, Geff Francis, Sam Adams, Ram John Holder, Shango Baku, Danny John-Jules and Jim Findley. Tricycle Theatre, London: 18 Dec. 1996 to 1 Feb. 1997.
Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Greta Mendez, Ellen Cairns, Ben Thomas, Syan Blake, Anni Domingo, Jenni George, Angie La Mar and David Webber. Drill Hall, London: 5 to 28 June 1997.
Othello by William Shakespeare. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. BenThomas, Paula Stockbridge, Dominic Letts, Peter Mair, Amantha Edmead, Sam Adams, Michael Buffong and Keith Hazemore. Drill Hall, London: 9 Oct. to 1 Nov. 1997.
Coups and Calypsos by M NourbeSe Philip. Dir. Greta Mendez. Perf. Sandra James-Young, Jackie Brown and Hassani Shapi. Oval House Theatre, London: 4 to 28 Feb. 1999.
Unfinished Business by Yazmine Judd. Dir. Michael Buffong. Perf. Jacqueline Kingston, Joanne Campbell, Josephine Melille and Don Gilet, Oval House Theatre, London: 30 Sept. to 31 Oct. 1999.
The Prayer by Grant Buchanan Marshall. Dir. Michael Buffong. Perf. Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Gordon Case, Antony Lennon and Dominic Letts. Young Vic, London: 5 to 29 July 2000.
One Love by Kwame Dawes. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Tony Gouveia, Ginny Holder, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Ruby Turner, Peter Stranka, Nicola Alexis, Angela Wynter, Sam Adams, David Webber and Joe Vera. Bristol Old Vic, Bristol: 6 to 28 Apr. 2001. Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London: 10 to 28 July 2001.
Itsy Bitsy Spider by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Jackie Kay, Christopher Rodriguez and Courttia Newland. Dir. Paul Medford. Perf. Jacqui Dubois, Amanda Symonds, Paul J Medford, Antony Lennon, Lorna Brown, Tony Marshall and Lucy J. Queen Elizabeth Hall, Royal Festival Hall, London: 2 to 3 Jan. 2002.
Long Time No See by Grant Buchanan Marshall. Dir. Michael Buffong. Perf. Jane Lowe, Michael Bertenshaw, Anthony Ofoegbu and Len Trusty. Stratford Circus, London: 18 Apr. to 11 May 2002.
The Key Game by Patricia Cumper. Dir. Karena Johnson. Perf. Jim Findlay, Marc Matthews. Sylvano Clarke and Kevin Harvey. Riverside Studios, London: 3 to 19 Oct. 2002.
Itsy Bitsy Spider by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Jackie Kay and Christopher Rodriguez. Dir. Ben Thomas. UCL Bloomsbury, London. 2 to 5 Jan. 2003.
Pace (TYPT 03). Soho Theatre and Writers’ Centre, London: 22 to 23 Aug. 2003. Tabernacle Arts Centre, London: 4 Sept. 2003.
Urban Afro Saxons by Kofi Agyemang and Patricia Elcock. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Suzette Llewellyn, Steve Toussaint and Jay Simpson.Theatre Royal Stratford East, London: 23 Oct. to 15 Nov. 2003.
Blest Be The Tie by Dona Daley. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Marion Bailey, Lorna Gayle and Ellen Thomas. Royal Court Theatre, London: 15 Apr. to 8 May 2004.
Blues for Mr Charlie by James Baldwin. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Roger Barclay, Leland Burnett, Eke Chukwu, Sylvano Clarke, Ruth Grey, Sam Hazeldine, Marcus Hercules, Richard Howard, Elizaben Hurran, Junior Lanlyan, Kwesi Asledu Mensah, Alibe Parsons, Rolf Saxon Michael Price, Ray Shell, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Barnaby Kay, Ellen Sheean, Mhairi Steenbock and Larrington Walkter. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich: 26 May to 5 June 2004. Tricycle Theatre, London: 16 June to 10 July 2004.
Reach (TYPT 2004). Drill Hall, London: 28 to 29 Aug. 2004.
Abena’s Stupidest Mistake by Sandra A Agard. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Nathan Clough, Elisa De Grey and Andrea Hall. Drill Hall, London: 8 to 23 Dec. 2004.
High Heel Parrotfish! by Christopher Rodriguez. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Brian Green, Peter Straker, Raj Chatak, Sandra Bee, Nicholai Le Barrie, Anthony Ofoegbu and Ashley Campbell. Theatre Royal Statford East, London: 8 Apr. to 7 May 2005.
Unzipped Soho Theatre, London: 13 to 15 Oct. 2005.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller (TYPT 2007). Drill Hall, London.
Pure Gold by Michael Bhim. Dir. Indhu Rubasingham. Perf. Louis Ekoku, Leonard Fenton, Dermot Kerrigan, Mark Monero, Golda Rosheuvel, Clarence Smith. Soho Theatre, London: 27 Sept. 2007.
Anansi Trades Places by Trish Cooke. Dir Paul Medford. Perf. Geoff Aymer, Shyko Amos, Dermot Daly, Marlon King, Susan Lawson-Reynolds and Malinda Parris. Shaw Theatre, London: 13 Dec. 2007 to 5 Jan. 2008.
Make Love Not War (TYPT 2008). Dir. Thierry Lawson. Drill Hall, London: 7 to 9 Aug. 2008.
Changing Rooms by Mark Olive (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 18 Sept. 2008
Rum and Coca Cola by Mustapha Matura (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 28 Oct. 2008.
See the Glory by Othniel Smith (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 20 Nov. 2008.
Zest for Life by Michael Bhim (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 18 Dec. 2008.
Anansi and the Magic Mirror by Geoff Aymer. Dir. Paul J Medford. Perf. Marcus Powell, Susan Lawson-Reynolds, Darren Hart, Sophie Benjamin, Tameka Empson and Kat B. Hackney Empire, London: 2009.
Krunch by participants of Talawa Young People’s Theatre (TYPT). Dir. Amani Naphtali. Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London. 30 July to 1 Aug. 2009.
White Paper by Stevie Amuzu (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 8 Sept. 2009.
Mr Atlantic by Atiha Sen-Gupta; excerpts from Rigged by Robert Hutchinson; and Dice by Harold Kimmel (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 8 Oct. 2009.
Maybe Father by Charlene James (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 12 Nov. 2009.
Winsome’s Daughter by Faith Miller (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 14 May 2010.
The Only Way by Olu Alakija (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 28 June 2010.
Brixton Rock by Alex Wheatle, adapted by Kolton Leean (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 20 July 2010.
Sold. Dir. Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh. Perf. Elizabeth Bisola Alabi, Tatum Arnankwah, Kayleigh Benoit, Abena Bentum, Allisa Janay Christie, Natasha Marshall, Faith Alabi and Raymond Strasser-King. National Maritime Museum, London: 23 Aug. 2010.
Rum and Coca Cola by Mustapha Matura. Dir Don Warrington. Perf. Victor Romero Evans and Marcel McCalla. Nuffield Theatre, Southampton: 13 to 16 Oct. 2010. Greenwich Theatre, London: 19 to 23 Oct. 2010. The Drum, Birmingham: 28 to 30 Oct. 2010. Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham: 2 to 6 Nov. 2010. Northcott, Exeter: 10 to 13 Nov. 2010.
Identity by Paul Anthony Morris (Unzipped). Dir. Steven Luckie. Momentum Showcase, Leicester: 28 Oct. 2010.
Krunch by participants of TYPT 2009 and Lakesha Cammock and Michaela-Moses Boakye-Collinson. The Albany, London: 2 to 4 Mar. 2011. The Drum, Birmingham: 11 to 12 Mar. 2011. Tara Arts, London: 17 Mar. 2011.
Passing Wind by Oladipo Agboluaje. Dir. Michael Buffong. Perf. Jude Akuwudike, Babtunde Aleshe, Tobi Bakare, Jocelyn Jee Esien, Anthony Ekundyo-Lennon, Simon Naylor, Anthony Ofoegbu, Wale Ojo, Antonia Okonma and Chucky Venn. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich: 8 June 2011.
Walking to Obama by Grant Buchanan Marshall (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 10 May 2011.
Take Me To Manhattan by Maxine Quintyne-Kolaru (Flipping the Script). Dir. Erica Miller. Young Vic, London: 22 June 2011.
The House of Zerquera by Atiha Sen Gupta (Flipping the Script). Dir. Anthonette Isioma. Young Vic, London: 28 July 2011.
# I Am England by participants of TYPT 2011. Dir. Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh. Perf. Winnie Arhin, Terri Ann Bobb-Baxter, Michelle D’Costa, Madeleine Kludje, Aiesha Lindsay, Eugene Osei, Palesa Mokoena, Rona Mamudu, Adam Tulloch and Toniche Wallace. Lilian Baylis Studio, London: 25 to 27 Aug. 2011.
The Coloured Museum by George C Wolfe. Dir. Don Warrington. Perf. Ashley Campbell, Terry Doe, Akiya Henry, Gbemisola Ikumelo and Alana Maria. The Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: 15 to 23 Oct. 2011.
Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett. Dir. Ian Brown. Perf. Fisayo Akinade, Guy Burgess, Cornell S John, Keffrey Kissoon and Patrick Robinson. West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds: 3 to 25 Feb. 2012. The Albany, London: 6 to 10 Mar. 2012. The Old Rep, Birmingham: 13 to 17 Mar. 2012. Winchester Theatre Royal, Winchester: 27 to 31 Mar. 2012. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich: 3 to 7 Apr. 2012.
Dad(Die) by Charlene James (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Tinuke Craig. Talawa Studio, London: 13 June 2012.
Stronger by Alexander Williams (Talawa Firsts). Dir. A Williams. Talawa Studio, London: 15 June 2012.
Rise by Cynthia Bernard (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Anthony Ekunayo Lennon. Talawa Studio, London: 20 June 2012.
Cortae by Shereen Jasmine Phillips (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Stef O’Driscoll. Talawa Studio, London: 22 June 2012.
Keepsake by Fraser Ayres (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Nadia Latif. Talawa Studio, London: 27 June 2012.
Echoes by N Richard Nash (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Erica Miller. Talawa Studio, London: 29 June 2012.
Enter by participants of TYPT 2012. Dir. Anthony Ekundayo Lennon. Perf. Yazzmin Anderson, Archie Backhouse, La-Keshia Bannis, Rebecca David, Veronic Lewis, Urbain Ngendahayo, Mary Nyambura, Jannine Perrineau, Rhianne Starbuck, Mica Taylor, Corrine Leandre Williams and Rohan Yates. Embassy Theatre, Central School of Speech and Drama, London: 23 to 25 Aug. 2012.
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