Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Ebenezer Bamgboye: The Lonely Londoners

By | Published on Friday 1 March 2024

A staging of ‘The Lonely Londoners’ – an adaptation by Roy Williams of Sam Selvon’s 1956 novel of the same name – has just begun its run at Jermyn Street Theatre and I am really keen to see it. Focusing on Windrush migrants, it explores migration, masculinity and the need for community. 

Former JST Deputy Director Ebenezer Bamgboye has returned to the venue to direct the piece. I spoke to him to find out more about the show and what we can expect from him in the future. 

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘The Lonely Londoners’ is all about? Who is it about and what story does it tell?
EB: ‘The Lonely Londoners’ is a deep dive into the emotions and experiences of a group of Windrush migrants. It’s the story of their friendships as they navigate the joys and struggles of living in 1950s London.

It follows them as they create a sense of belonging in this country and make England into their home.

CM: What themes are explored through the play? 
EB: It’s a play about migration, but it’s also a deep exploration of masculinity, about the right and wrong ways that the men who are the protagonists of this story deal with the struggles within. It’s a paean to the importance of and the need for community as a bulwark against self-destruction. 

CM: The play is an adaptation of the novel by Sam Selvon – how closely does it follow the events of the book? 
EB: The essence of the characters are directly taken from the book. The enchanting atmospheric tone and the way in which London is a character is also true of the book.

This is a tribute to the work of Sam Selvon, but it is also balanced with all those things that are so distinctive of Roy’s work – a focus on character, grit, deep emotion, sweeping narrative arcs.

CM: What made you want to work on this? How have you approached it? 
EB: When I first read the book, my first thought was: this is a masterpiece. My second thought was that it so clearly belongs on stage and I’ve been working to turn it into a theatrical experience ever since.

I have approached it as I approach all projects – I looked for core ideas and the essence of the story, and then I’ve attempted to manifest that core in the scenography in a way that feels quintessentially theatrical.

CM: Obviously Windrush issues have become highly political, but does this play feel political? Does it have a message? 
EB: The ‘message’ is about the power and importance of community, and especially for how true that resonates with men. I wanted to focus on the way that community works in providing sanctuary from hostile environments and protecting us from self-destruction. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast and creative team? 
EB: I’ve been so lucky to be working with a truly world-class team all of whom enjoy telling stories in bold, theatrical ways. And the cast give absolutely stellar performances – you’ll have to come see for yourself!

CM: Last time we spoke, it was about the Footprints Festival and your role as deputy at Jermyn Street. I think you’ve moved on from that role now, haven’t you? What’s been happening in the intervening time? What projects have you been working on? 
EB: I truly loved my time at Jermyn Street Theatre and I’m so glad to be back. Since then, I have been working full-time as a freelance director.

This has included a show at the Southwark Playhouse, R&Ds at theatres including the Almeida, and third year shows at drama schools such as RADA, LAMDA and GSA.

CM: What are your plans for the future? Any new aims or ambitions? 
EB: I’m hoping to continue to grow and develop as an artist through freelance projects, but my long-term goal is to one day work as an artistic director – I’m also looking to gain more experience working in senior leadership and move in that direction. 

CM: What’s coming up next for you, after this production? 
EB: I cannot reveal that, as it is yet to be announced. But I am excited to be starting a new role shortly as the Programming Associate at a London theatre. I can’t wait to start!

‘The Lonely Londoners’ runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 6 Apr. Head to the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

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