The subject matter of immigration has been banded around for years now; a matter that has been a crucial player in terms of the significant political decisions made within the UK. With the effects of Brexit starting to impact our economical and societal landscape, the concept of ‘home’ couldn’t be anymore of a hot topic. Initially showcased 2 years ago during the Leave/Remain campaigns that would see the UK ultimately decide to leave the EU, Ilé La Wà (We Are Home) would later draw parallels with the shocking revalations of the Windrush Scandal. Playwright Tolu Agbelusi talks us through her debut topical play.
Hi Tolu! Your debut play, Ilé La Wà will take to the Stratford Circus stage in late June. How are you feeling ahead of the production?
Excited and a little terrified. I know from the sell-out preview at Richmix that Ilé La Wà reflects a narrative that really engages people. That said, it’s my baby, and it feels like I’m dropping her at school for the first time with all the nerves that conjures.
Ilé La Wà translates as ‘We Are Home’ from the Yoruba language (native to Nigeria). What was it about this particular phrase that resonated with you?
It’s a defiant affirmation to myself, but also to whoever attempts to tell me I don’t belong anywhere. Choosing to say it in Yoruba, adds to that dynamic in that, it says, you don’t have to understand me and I’m not obliged to subtitle myself for you. I’m home regardless.
What inspired you to write Ilé La Wà?
Between 2013/14 when I started writing the play and now, there has been a heightening of the xenophobia in this society. It was there for the world to see with the ill conceived ‘Go Home’ billboards, the Brexit campaigns, stories of death in the migrant crisis, stories of black people inordinately dying after contact with the police even in mental health institutions, the Windrush Scandal, and the everyday othering which people of colour live with here. I wanted to write something that showed the reality of the system and resonated with the actual lives of people, society only ever reduces to labels. It was also important to talk about certain injustices which people tend to think is an American issue but we don’t have that here.
Ilé La Wà explores themes of immigration, identity, belonging and the concept of ‘home’. Why explore these particular themes?
I wanted to engage in a conversation that allowed people to look beyond the regular markers of race, class, etc. Everyone, including those who are homeless have concepts of home and we all want to belong, but, whilst universality presents itself in the use of the words, home, belonging, identity, we are rarely talking about the same thing. By writing a play using real people’s narratives, exploring daily life, we get to see a spectrum of realities attached to these themes and begin to ask ourselves difficult questions: who gets to belong, why and on whose rules?
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
We live in a broken world and healing will only begin when we make deliberate choices to see each other beyond preconceptions and labels.
Ilé La Wà is an incredibly timely piece as it deals with the unbelievable revelations of the Windrush Scandal. Why focus on this case?
It is timely, as it was in 2016 when we previewed it. It wasn’t the Windrush Scandal then, it was the Brexit campaigns and the racist sentiments it made people express boldly. This all goes to show that the Windrush Scandal wasn’t a mistake or indeed unbelievable. Our government’s recycle these injustices through the years. The media cycle seems to have quietened down on the Windrsush issue but people are still feeling the fall out. This whole culture of apologising for getting caught and putting a plaster on ailments that require surgery is unacceptable. Plays like Ilé La Wà, rip off the plaster and lays bare the realities of the system with a view to joining in a call to action that says ‘we all need to fix this’ and do better.
As well as writing the show, you also star in it alongside Damilola DK Fashola, Mamito Kukwikilaand Winston Sarpong. Can you describe a typical day in rehearsals?
I can’t discuss rehearsals without discussing Anni Domingo, the director of the show. She is truly incredible, funny and blunt. Very blunt. A typical rehearsal day involves the usual repetition of the script, discussions about personal experiences of the cast and crew sparked by the play and many ‘Anniisms’ which lead to laughter. Lots of laughter.Siri even got involved last week, I can’t remember what was said now but all of a sudden, this computerised voice said, ‘do you speak to your mother with that mouth’? That set everyone off again.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers and performers?
Take risks and do the work. You have to believe in yourself enough to keep pushing beyond the no’s and the hardships that will come. It may sound redundant to say this but I’ll say it anyway, if you are a writer, read and keep writing, don’t wait for inspiration to fall at your feet. If you are a performer, perform and watch others do it, particularly those who paved the way for you.
Ilé La Wà Will be showing from Thursday 21st until Saturday 23rd June 2018 at Stratford Circus. To find out more about the production, visit here…