Playtime for a New Generation; Why Isn't Everyone Celebrating the Rise in Black British Writing, Asks a Former Winner of the Evening Standard's Most Promising Playwright Award

By Williams, Roy L. | The Evening Standard (London, England), June 18, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Playtime for a New Generation; Why Isn't Everyone Celebrating the Rise in Black British Writing, Asks a Former Winner of the Evening Standard's Most Promising Playwright Award


Williams, Roy L., The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: ROY WILLIAMS

IS it me, or is something important happening to black British theatre this year? Over a period of six months, four of London's major theatres will have staged new black British work.

Kwame Kwei-Armah's Elmina's Kitchen, set on the streets of Hackney, opened to great reviews two weeks ago at the National Theatre.

It is a moving tale of a father desperately trying to save his son from the allure of gun crime.

My new play, Fallout, about a black copper returning to his old neighbourhood to investigate a boy's death and coming up against a wall of silence, opened last night at the Royal Court. At the same theatre, DeObia Oparei's Crazyblackmuthaf***in'self, a wild, over-the-top portrait of a black gay man and a brave subject to tackle, played to packed houses earlier this year.

Debbie Tucker Green has had two plays produced recently: Dirty Butterfly, at the Soho Theatre, and Born Bad, at Hampstead, a tale of dysfunction in a West Indian family, with disturbing echoes of abuse.

We have all written about family relationships, gender, sex and death, masculinity, peer pressure, a search for belonging, a need for respect, universal themes that every person on the planet can relate to.

Our stories are all different in style and narrative, but all are seen through the eyes of black people, all are contemporary: we are all addressing what it means to be black for our generation today.

Does this signal a new evolution of black theatre? I bloody well hope so.

But why now? A sign of the times?

Let me come at it from a West Indian perspective. My generation (the black kids who were born here) are getting older now, having kids ourselves. Our mums and dads were the Windrush generation, who came to Britain in the Forties and Fifties.

Now they are dying away - in 10-15 years, they may be all gone.

I feel there is a real compulsion among my peers to analyse our black culture, as the torch is passed on, to define our place in British history.

Who are we now? Where are we going? Britain is more multiracial than ever now, right? We are getting along much better now, right? Or are we fighting the same fights our parents did?

I also think there is a growing appetite among whites for more interpretation of black culture in the media, as it grows more influential.

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Playtime for a New Generation; Why Isn't Everyone Celebrating the Rise in Black British Writing, Asks a Former Winner of the Evening Standard's Most Promising Playwright Award
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