Caro Meets Festivals Interview Theatre Interview

Annette Brook: how we love & Young, Gifted And Black

By | Published on Friday 24 September 2021

Beginning this week at Theatre Peckham is the venue’s third annual Young, Gifted & Black season, which takes place for just over a month and features work focusing on the black experience in the UK.

Annette Brook is the playwright behind ‘how we love’, which is getting a staging in late October as part of the strand.

I spoke to her to find out more about the play – and also what else we can expect from this year’s Young, Gifted & Black.

CM: Let’s start by talking about your own work, ‘how we love’: firstly, what is the play about? Whose story does it tell and where does the narrative take us?
AB: ‘how we love’ tells the story of Nigerian best friends – lesbian student Regi and gay journalist Babs – who put their friendship to the test when they hatch a plan to marry each other and not their actual partners back in Nigeria, where it is illegal to be gay. Regi’s neighbour, Rupert – an 89-year-old concentration camp survivor – assists their preparations. Regi and Babs hope their ‘cover’ will stop the threatening rumours and allow Babs to safely expose the inhumane treatment of LGBTQIA+ people in Nigeria, especially in the north where being gay is publishable by death.

CM: What themes do you explore through the play?
AB: I explore themes of homophobia, grief, but also love. I’m also looking at the alternative family that lots of queer people form when their actual families are no longer welcoming to them. I spoke to Robbie Taylor Hunt – our director – about this a lot in rehearsal. Also, though the themes are heavy, there is A LOT of humour in the play, which is important as I think this is how life is – highs and lows.

CM: What was the inspiration for the work? What made you want to write a play about this subject?
AB: I wrote the original ‘how we love’ in response to a short play night call for stories about love. It was never originally intended to be a longer piece but Robbie encouraged me to explore the characters’ stories some more. I am half-Nigerian myself and consider myself a queer ally – but also I’m interested in friendship – what you would do for your friends? – and also the lessons we can learn from history.

CM: Have you been involved with the production of the play – both this time and with past productions? Or have you handed over the script and stood back…?
AB: I’ve been involved with both previous productions as a co-producer – you would find me on my hands and knees after the Vault shows throwing props in a bag as we tried to meet our turnaround time. I’ll do the marketing, source props, bring COVID-19 tests along for the cast, run about looking for light bulbs that sort of thing. There’s no glamour! Even as the writer, the script changes and evolves with each production, so it can never be a case of handing it over and standing back. I try to stay quiet in rehearsal though, no one wants a writer butting in!

CM: Was writing theatre something you always wanted to do? What steps did you take to make a career in this area?
AB: I have enjoyed the theatre from childhood when my mum would take me to Nettlefold Hall – in West Norwood – to see the children’s shows. I wrote poetry as a child but didn’t consider writing for theatre until a Channel 4 competition ‘The Play’s The Thing’ came along asking for new plays.

I then put a burning idea I’d had down on paper – it was as though I’d been given permission to write drama. I made it through to the final 30 out of 2000 people and thought “well this isn’t too bad”. I didn’t know how to progress after that but a colleague suggested I send it to the Royal Court – after much faffing about I did and was invited onto the Young Writers Programme and sort of kept going from there.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
AB: I’d love to have a full run of ‘how we love’ on at the National – you have to dream! I generally want to keep making work that I enjoy.

CM: Can you tell us a bit more now about Young, Gifted and Black – what can we expect from the 2021 programme…?
AB: Young, Gifted & Black is a festival of theatre, poetry, film and discussion, highlighting the nuances of the black experience in the UK. This is the third year and work presented focuses on stories around migration and belonging.

CM: How have events been selected for inclusion in the strand? Who put the programme together?
AB: Young, Gifted & Black was curated by our Associate Director Malakaï Sargeant and Production Assistant Naya Aka-Kwarm – they reached out to companies, alongside inviting work from Theatre Peckham’s own in-house companies – Young Producers and Rep Company.

CM: Can you tell us about some of the highlights? Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to, yourself?
AB: It’s such an exciting line-up and there’s something for everyone. We’ve got new play ‘OJÀ’ by John Akinde – kicking off YGB on 30 Sep; and a Blaxploitation film night on 16 Oct; Inua Ellams is bringing his show ‘Search Party’, in which the audience determines which poems he reads – on 26 Oct; followed by Pen:Ting’s fab poetry night on 27 Oct and ‘…care’ on 2-3 Nov, Theatre Peckham’s Rep Company’s much-anticipated response to ‘…cake’.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
AB: I’m currently writing a heavy metal musical – with a black lead. I’m fascinated by the black alternative. As for Theatre Peckham, we’ll be looking forward to our Christmas show ‘The Wonderful’ which runs from 1-22 Dec.

Theatre Peckhams’ Young, Gifted & Black runs from 30 Sep–6 Nov, and ‘how we love’ takes place from 28-30 Oct. See this page here for the full line up and links to individual events.

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