Utopia brings African Theatre to Arcola’s Today I’m Wiser Festival


Utopia Theatre is excited for its double bill at the Arcola Theatre, which will be their first performance on a British stage after the COVID-19 lockdown of the past year. The theatre has engaged a talented pool of performers and creatives to bring these two moving plays to life, each one exploring the different challenges faced by African women from different parts of the continent and the diaspora. The productions are as follows:

Here’s What She Said to Me by Oladipo Agboluaje –

If I were like you, I’d have never found a man to marry me. And that right there is a problem.

Meet Agbeke, Omotola and Aramide, the three generations of proud African women connecting with each other across two continents, across time and space. Together they share their struggles, their joys, tragedies, and broken dreams in order to find healing in the present.

Here’s What She Said to Me combines drama with music, poetry, and movement to tell a moving story of daughters and mothers in the world of migrations and shifting identities, braving life with an undying hope, optimism, and resilience.

‘And the Girls in Their Sunday Dresses’ by Zakes Mda –

A dynamic two-hander, taking on the topic of inequalities and state bureaucracy as a powerful tool of oppression. In the tenacious shadow of apartheid, the possibility of change in South Africa remains suffocated by corruption, which is facilitated by an insidious network of red tape and inefficiency. The gulf between ostensive and actual parity between white and black, and the suffering which persists among the country’s poorest inhabitants are the themes of Zakes Mda’s witty and astute 1988 play, and they remain outrageously pertinent today.


Utopia Theatre had continued to create through the lockdowns with their online Creative Hub, which brought workshops, rehearsed readings, and panel discussions to their international community.

Mojisola Elufowoju, Artistic Director and CEO, Utopia Theatre, said:

“We were incredibly proud of all our online work, and the way it allowed us to keep in touch with and expand our community and keep African Theatre alive. However, it is time to get back on the stage. We are ecstatic to be able to produce in-person performances once again for our audiences.”

Utopia Theatre has gratefully received funding from Arts Council England for this project.

The plays will be staged on Arcola’s brand-new outdoor space, which allows the venue to ensure the ongoing safety of audiences, even with the recent lifting of restrictions.

Arcola’s co-founder and Executive Producer Leyla Nazli said:

“We have been so thrilled to welcome audiences back to Arcola in our new venue: Arcola Outside. Home to Today I’m Wiser, a festival born out of a desire to celebrate creativity and optimism for the future, we are delighted to continue to support the artistic endeavours of so many theatre companies who have been working passionately and arduously at this time to create work with important stories to tell.”

Utopia will be following this festival with a full UK tour of Here’s What She Said to me in early 2022, with more information on this to be announced soon.

Cast

Here’s What She Said to Me

Agbeke - Tomi Ogunjobi (Grandmother)

Tomi is a graduate of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, specialising in acting, voice and movement. She has a professional career spanning over 30 years, starting as a young actress in Lagos Nigeria, before progressing to the prestigious University of Ibadan to study Theatre Arts. Tomi had featured in many stage, TV, film, documentaries and commercial shows, both in Nigeria, Italy and the UK, playing the lead in most of them and worked with notable theatre companies, Directors, Cinematographers and Playwrights including Nigeria’s foremost Playwright Ola Rotimi, Rufus Norris among others. Her latest credit includes the Netflix series, Sex Education, season 3, playing the part of Eric's Aunt Beryl.

Omotola - Christina Osunniyi (Mother)

Following an acclaimed, sold-out run at the Arcola Theatre in 2018, as part of Femi Elufowoju, jr Ensemble as - 'Iya Tope in 'The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives'-  'a  five star swaggering spectacular' (The Guardian);  Christina is excited and  thrilled to be part of the 'Here Is What She Said To Me' Ensemble. Her other theatre credits include:  

On Missing (Wretched Theatre), 

Esther’s Revenge (Lagos Theatre Festival Nigeria); 

Flower (Terra Kulture Lagos, Nigeria )

Misterioso (Riverside Studios, Edinburgh Festival).

Television includes:  It Takes Five, First Stars (Ebony Life TV). Christina can currently be seen in the role of IT expert, Fiona in the Special Crimes Unit Television series  'Brethren' airing on DSTV Africa Magic Urban channel 154 (Femi Odugbemi, Zuri24Media) You can see more of her work at christinaoshunniyi.com

Aramide - Lebogang Fisher (Daughter)

Lebogang Fisher is a South African film and theatre actress. She graduated from Rhodes University, (BA Drama and English Literature studies) (2019). She is one of the top 10 winners of the Warner Bros. Actors In Training Programme (2020). She has also graduated from the New York Film Academy's 1-year Acting for Film conservatory programme (2015). She has since participated in The Show Must Go Online's live Zoom production of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, as Cressida (2020). Other works include SciFi Film Festival's I-RIS (2019), Mas(queer)ade (2019), The State (2018). She recently filmed Jungle - a new series for Amazon.

Musician - Ayan De First

Ayan De First is an African cultural Ambassador and the first premier talking drummer in Europe. He eats, breathes, and promotes African culture to a wider audience.  Pioneer in many ways and a versatile artist, he has broken boundaries when he became the first African Talking drummer to perform for Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II and The Royal Family at Buckingham Palace, followed by another performance for HRH Prince Charles at St James’s Palace and in Croydon. Apart from his appearances on numerous British TV Channels and on CNN as well as in Nigerian and British national and local newspapers, Ayan De First entered record books when he became the First African musician to have appeared and performed on Channel 4 ‘s programme ‘’Come Dine With Me’’. He has been interviewed severally on BBC Radio and FM. His theatre plays includes Tickets and Ties, The Secret Of Baba Segi’s Wives directed by Femi Elufowoju Junior and Iyalode of Eti directed by Moji Kareem Elufowoju.


And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses

Sabrina Richmond (The Woman)

Sabrina Richmond, trained as an actor in New York, is a writer & director with a background in Journalism. She has performed at venues in London such as Southwark Playhouse, Pleasance, The Vaults, Arcola, Lyric Hammersmith & Theatre 503. As Oxford Playhouse Evolve Artist 2020/21 she’s developing a one woman show about sex and women’s bodies. Tamasha Theatre Playwright 2019/20.

Directing work shown at; Southwark Playhouse, Theatro Technis, Pleasance, Lion & Unicorn. Recently Online For The Space. Writing Credits: Short Plays, Genetic Beauty For Which The Space Has Offered Bespoke Development, My Cape Is Invisible (Pleasance Theatre), Hands Off My Womb! (Chapel Playhouse) & One Act: An African In The Snow (LABS Program, Pleasance Theatre).  

Bu Kunene (The Lady)

Bu Kunene is a British South African actor who has recently moved back to London after a 3 year stint training at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. Bu subsequently appeared in a few productions upon graduating namely the courtroom adaptation of the teleplay by Reginald Rose 12 angry men; Revised to 12 Angry Women at the Producers Club theatre in Manhattan.

She also went on to play various characters, at the Alpha NYC theatre company,in the sketch comedy A sketch of New York before ultimately returning to the UK and making her London stage debut appearing as Thandi in The Ice Cream Boys, Jermyn Street Theatre. Other works include Rehearsed Reading of Winnie: Mother Of The Nation playing Winne. Last year Bu appeared in S4 of The Crown.

She spent the first half of her childhood in South Africa and is subsequently fluent in 5 languages and can be found learning to salsa and play African drums in her spare time.


Creatives (Both Projects)

Director

Mojisola Elufowoju

 

Mojisola is the CEO and Artistic Director of Utopia Theatre. Her work includes devising and curating Utopia Theatre Creative Hub; staff director at The National Theatre on Three Sisters; recipient of the 2017 Opera Awards Foundation bursary; founding member of Mosaic Opera Collective; guest director at the London Academy of Dramatic Arts and London South Bank University. She has recently launched a new initiative, Utopia Theatre Creative Hub, bringing African theatre experts together to offer courses, workshops and events online. Theatre credits include: Here's What She Said To Me (Sheffield Crucible) Eight (Edric Theatre) Far Gone (Theatre Deli and Sheffield Studio Theatre).  How Far Apart? (Work In Progress - Arcola Theatre and Sheffield Hallam Performance Lab); The Bogus Woman (Camden People’s Theatre); On Missing (The Cockpit Theatre); The Pied Piper Of Chibok Opera (Opera North Residency and Arcola Theatre); I am David Oluwale (Work In Progress - Leeds Playhouse); Iyalode of Eti (Leeds Playhouse); London Tales (Rich Mix and Lost Theatre); This Is Our Chance (Cultural Centre Calabar, Nigeria); The Shepherd’s Chameleon (CLF Art Cafe) House of Corrections (Riverside Studios); Wake Me When It's Time (York Theatre Royal).

Designer

Emma Williams

Previous work with the company includes Iyalode of Eti, Leeds Playhouse, Sheffield Crucible, Derby Playhouse; The Pied Piper of Chibok, Arcola Theatre and R&D showings for  Shadows in Different Shades and I am David at Sheffield Crucible and Leeds Playhouse respectively.

Other recent work includes Everything I Own and Abigail’s Party , Hull Truck; Smile Club, Red Ladder, Leeds Playhouse and Upon the Stair , The Book of Darkness and Light, Harrogate Theatre.

Sound Designer

Rob Hart

'Rob Hart trained in Sound Design at Edinburgh University (Msc with Distinction) and has over 10 years experience working professionally in theatre and film.  His works for theatre include 'Long Day’s Journey Into Night' (Bermuda Festival), 'Holiday Selfie' (Pulse Festival), 'Eclipse' (Theatre Royal, Stratford), 'Rosaura' (Women and War Festival), ‘Iyalode of Eti’ (West Yorkshire Playhouse), 'The Foley Explosion' (The Yard Theatre), ‘Here’s What She Said To Me’ (Sheffield Crucible) and 'No Future' (Camden People's Theatre).  He regularly performs experimental music and expanded cinema as a solo artist and in the collaborations 'Swab' and 'The Hellfire Project'.  His sound design can be heard in the recent video series for the V&A ‘ASMR at the Museum. robhartav.com'

Lighting Designer

Chuma Emembolu

Lighting Designer Chuma Emembolu trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company, under the tutelage of the Chief Electrician and Lighting Designer.

Highlights: Tales from Ovid - Swan theatre, Don Juan - Hoxton Hall Theatre, Bouncers and Shakers - Gulbenkian Theatre/Marlow Theatre, Tainted The Musical - The Vaults. And has had numerous Offie commended productions including Great Expectations, Macbeth the Musical, Illusions of Liberty as well as Offie nominated productions like I and the village and The Sword of Alex And many more productions

Lighting & Sound Design Credits include: A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, The Tempest, Popcorn, Anthony and Cleopatra. Romeo and Juliet, Metamorphosis, Gift of the Gab, Tainted The Musical and many more.

Chuma isa Freelance Lighting Designer as well as co-writing and Directing the Musical adaptation of Macbeth with puppets (Macbeth the Musical).

Future Projects: L'enfant - Royal Academy of Music, Love, Genius and a Walk - Theatre Technis Theatre, Poison Passion and Purification - Susie Sainsbury Theatre

Choreographer

Lati Saka

Lati Saka combines Pan African and contemporary African dance forms with modern Western techniques.  Her work has risen from her life experiences as a female born in Nigeria and raised in London. An existence where she cultivated an identity by merging Nigerian, African and UK culture together.

Her choreography is about exploring her rich, diverse cultural heritage to generate dynamic theatre.

Through her dance practice, she seeks to build relationships and encourage dialogues between herself and others to illuminate the individual and collective identities in a landscape that appears to be constantly changing and transforming lives, both here in the UK and  in the global context.


You can book tickets online by visiting arco.la/dresses for And the Girls in Their Sunday Dresses by Zakes Mda, and arco.la/said for Here’s What She Said To Me.

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