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'Black Lives, Black Words' at the Bush Theatre: why this, why now?

The newly renovated Bush Theatre opens its doors with a night of short plays responding to the Black Lives Matter movement on both sides of the Atlantic. We spoke to four of the playwrights involved

By Alice Savile

Rachel De-Lahay

Are you kidding? Any chance to celebrate black voices, black joy and black stories is so important. The African-American playwrights who started the project have created a base for us to build on and we’ve been commissioned to riff off their work. Because it’s going to open the Bush’s season, it’ll reach a wide audience but that doesn’t mean they’re savvy and woke and ready to hear these stories. But I think theatre can change minds and move people. In order for us to progress, we can’t just march ahead on our own agenda. It’s about supporting each other, and we can do that by helping each other see into worlds we’re not usually exposed to.’

Somalia Seaton

‘We’re living in a time now where theatre, especially UK theatre, can be quite polite and beige. But if theatre’s not provoking people, what’s the point of it? For me, the theatre’s a place not only to be inspired, but to call people to arms. Black Lives Matter is one of the hugest movements of our time: I can’t imagine surviving this political climate without it. But I’d also like to say that I think we look to America generally for a lot of stories of Afro-Caribbean experiences, because of the hugeness that is Hollywood, when the history over there is hugely different. We cannot solely use their stories to reflect our experiences – we need to tell our own.’


Winsome Pinnock

‘I was the first black female writer to have a play at the National Theatre. Thirty years later, I’m still one of the only black females who’s been produced there, and that’s nothing short of shameful. If you think women writers are under-represented in theatre, then my God, black women writers are severely under-represented. They don’t get the nurturing they need to grow. And if you’re not programming these women, you’re not being bold enough to tell their stories – stories which might even indirectly criticise you. Integration is incredibly successful, but there’s another story of continuing inequality, and I think that’s one that needs to be told.’

Mojisola Adebayo

‘My piece is a transcript of the roadside interrogation of Sandra Bland [an African-American activist who died in police custody] – I couldn’t write anything more powerful. It’s an act of solidarity: by reading her words aloud, the whole room steps into her shoes. London is the most diverse city in Europe, so it’s about recognising that we are all in this space together, and all our voices need to be heard.’

© Portraits by Andy Parsons

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