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In the spotlight: Bola Agbaje

NEW PLAY: Paywright Bola Agbaje

THE LATEST offering from playwright Bola Agbaje explores themes of culture, identity and the notion of home. Directed by renowned theatre-maker Indhu Rubasingham Belong is the first play to be produced under British-African theatre company Tiata Fahodzi’s new artistic director, Lucian Msamati, who also plays the lead role of Kayode.

Commissioned by the company to write a play about a disgraced British MP who flees to Africa to escape humiliation after an election defeat, Agbaje was inspired after her brother-in-law relocated to Nigeria to get involved in politics. Having also witnessed many others uprooting to Nigeria – her parents’ country of birth – in pursuit of change, the award-winning writer had enough inspiration to get to work.

“I want people to take away a better understanding of Nigeria as I think when you see places like it in the news, it’s always about the corruption and the poor states”, she says.

“It’s always shown like people are running away from Africa trying to come here [to the UK]. Well it’s a new time. People are running there and I just want others to understand that Africa isn’t about people swatting flies away from their faces. There are opportunities there and people are running towards that.”

Belong’s protagonist Kayode struggles to fit in Nigeria, due to corruption issues and the country’s political system being markedly different to that of the UK.


STRONG CAST: (L-R) Lucian Msamati, Pamela Nomvete and Ashley Zhangazha

When developing the script of her satirical work, Agbaje contacted Nigerian politicians and collected experiences of people who have migrated back for added authenticity.

“For different people, home means so many different things,” she says. “For some, home is where the heart is. Where I live, home is where you were born and for others, home is where you feel comfortable.

“I think London will always be my home and I would consider living in Nigeria for periods of time, but I could never turn my back. It’s an ongoing saga when it comes to identity and figuring out where you belong.”

Initially setting out to become an actress, Agbaje switched to writing after stumbling upon the Tiata Fahodzi production The Gods Are Not To Blame in 2004. With the play depicting a stark picture of Nigeria, Agbaje was stirred to emulate a similar production eventually.

The switch in career direction proved fruitful, with her first play Gone Too Far earning the writer a prestigious Laurence Olivier award. The play is now being developed into a film adaptation.

A determined writer, Agbaje cites fellow playwright, and close friend, Roy Williams as a mentor.
“I can confide in him whenever I have any issues or am finding things difficult. It’s always nice to have someone to turn to.”

Belong continues at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1 until May 26. For more information visit www.royalcourttheatre.com

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