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'We have a race problem in England'

PLAYWRIGHT: Arinze Kene

ARINZE KENE says he does not do politics. But for anyone who has seen one of Kene’s plays, it may sound like an unusual statement because the prolific playwright has written many plays about the state of society, ranging from life on a housing estate to African perceptions on Christianity. Yet, Kene says his plays are not political, they are humanistic.

“I’m not a political person, my plays always cover issues that people may say are political, but I’m tackling issues from the human perspective, from where it affects people personally. I can’t shun politics because I live on planet Earth but when I can I try to avoid it, because I don’t understand it. It gets me worked up and gets me stressed out and stress is the enemy,” confessed the 25-year-old.

In his latest play, God’s Property, Kene takes the audience back in time to the restless streets of Deptford, sout London in the early 1980s, as estranged mixed race brothers Chima (Kinsley Ben-Adir) and Onochie (Ash Hunter) are unexpectedly reunited.

Not only covering the spiraling youth unemployment, inner city riots and economic downturn of the Eighties, the writer also is exploring the very divisive issue of race and where mixed race people stand in society. And although the Little Baby Jesus author tried to stay away from the political aspect of race he had to admit that, like 30 years ago, the UK still has a racial problem.

“In London we have a problem with race and the problem is that people think there is no problem with race. But nothing is being done about it, so that is our issue,” Kene said.

He added: “In America, race is on the agenda, because they know they have problems, and they try to set the right laws to improve the situation, over here we don’t have those kinds of rules and that’s what bothers me at certain times.”


CAST OF GOD’S PROPERTY: (L-R) Kinsley Ben-Adir (Chima), Ria Zmitrowicz (Holly), Ash Hunter (Onochie) and Bradley Gardner (Liam) in Gods Property [PIC CREDIT: Helen Maybanks]

Channelling that frustration into his work, Kene has chosen to highlight the problem that he says is being overlooked by the majority and he insists that he will continue to discuss the subject of race for as long as it takes.

“I know that some mixed raced people feel black, some feel mixed race and I thought I would explore that. It is still relevant, I don’t think discussing race is overdone, if you looked at the amount of time Great Expectations has been done and re-done, I don’t get bored of a good story and I don’t think this issue has been explored anywhere near enough as most. I think I am tapping into something that has not been explored enough,” said Kene.

The former Eastenders actor says that period dramas like Downtown Abbey and classical plays are not only entertaining but also informative. He also believes that the black community needs to develop their own ‘Downtown’ style shows, as a way of preserving black history.

“When it comes to period pieces there is a lack of them for black people. And I think the reason why I set some of my plays in the past is because I know how important it was to me when I was younger seeing black people on television and learning about where we came from. For a long time I thought that we were the first black people to come London and I came in 1991. It has only been in the last five years that I’ve learnt that black people have been around for hundreds of years, and I didn’t know that.”

God’s Property will be showing at the Soho theatre until March 23. For more information visit http://www.talawa.com

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