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Rewriting the rules of theatre

TEAMWORK: Adjoa Andoh, left and Lynette Linton have turned Richard II on its head

THERE HAS never been a production like it, quite literally. Richard II, which is currently at the Shakespeare’s Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, features an all-women cast and crew and guess what? None of them are white.

It’s a monumental achievement, but one that should have happened a long time ago, according to co-director Adjoa Andoh who also plays the lead role of Richard II.

“For me, it’s ridiculous that it is 2019 and this is the first time it’s happened,” Andoh told Life & Style. She added:

“But in terms of the timing of it, first of all I say thank you to Michelle Terry for taking the risk because we’re still seen as a risk – which is also ridiculous – but we’ll be on stage when we do or do not Brexit.

“We’ll be on stage as women of colour doing the great play about England, the great play about the scepter’d isle, the romantic speech about this country, but it’s actually a great chastisement about this country that had these great values and is ruining itself, it’s consuming itself.”

Andoh and Lynette Linton direct the first ever company of women of colour in a Shakespeare play on a major UK stage, in a post-Empire reflection on what it means to be British in the light of the Windrush anniversary and as we leave the European Union.

But it nearly didn’t happen. Andoh explained: “I came to see Michelle Terry about a different project and that one didn’t happen but she said to me to have a look at Richard II.


ONE OF A KIND: Adjoa Andoh directs cast behind the scenes (photo: Ingrid Pollard)

“I didn’t know it very well, went away and read it, came back and said this is good. She asked me if I would want to direct it and I said yes I would.

“I also said I would want to do it with a company with all women of colour and she asked who I had in mind to play Richard, to which I responded, ‘Me’.”

Following a polite inquisition into her mental state, Andoh assured Terry that with the help of Linton the job would get done.

“The reason I wanted it to be all women of colour was because I wanted to take a story that is about England and say, ‘You know what, we have contributed to the history of this country. We have contributed to the wealth and prosperity of this country’.”

She added: “Lynette and I work really well together, we love each other, I love her work, she loves mine and we trust each other. We’re pretty blunt with each other, we say what we think which is great.

“So for me I knew I couldn’t direct this and play Richard, I needed someone else to do it with me. Lynette was my go-to person. She’s good with people and good with politics. She knows how to put people in space on the stage.”

One of Andoh’s desires with this production was to showcase the fact that women of colour can do it all. She enthused: “England isn’t where are ancestors are from. They took us, they took our property, took our prosperity, took out future, took our dignity and actually, in return, we have given a lot to this country and our contribution is not always acknowledged, valued or recognised and I wanted to take a little moment in this play to do a few things: I wanted to say we are here and we have been here for some considerable time.

“We’ve been contributing to the wealth of this country for centuries and who’s usually at the bottom of that empire pile? People of colour and women, so let women of colour tell the story of power for once and just hear how that resonates coming out of our mouths, hear it differently.

“When they talk about black pagans in this play and infidels, we’ve got them all on stage telling the story.”

She added: “[Women of colour] are hugely talented, and quite often we don’t get to do this kind of work and we don’t get to play the leads and the major parts and have all of this wonderful language in our mouths and quite often were the only ones in the room. So let’s have all women of colour.


MONUMENTAL: The full cast and crew of the impressive all-women of colour production (photo: Ingrid Pollard)

“In this production stage managers are women of colour, composers are women of colour, musicians are women of colour, lighting is a women of colour, the voice coach is a woman of colour, designers are women of colour, everybody across the board is a woman of colour. Why? Because we have the gifts and talents here, we do all of that stuff.”

Just coming into work in any walk of life can be fraught with unseen landmines the kind of which Andoh said she didn’t want anyone working with her to experience. The result was a universal sense of freedom. “As an artist, you didn’t have to represent, you could just come and be,” said Andoh.

EXPERIENCES

“You don’t have to come and be whatever, you can just come and be. You don’t have to come and represent all of womanhood and all women of colour everywhere in the whole world just come and do your job. The freedom of that doesn’t usually happen. That’s been a really releasing thing for us.

“Our ancestors may have come from different places but our experiences of being women of colour in this country, there are many similarities, so we’ve been in a room where there has been a lot of tears and there has been a lot of laughter and there has been a lot of joy and a sense of freedom to just come and be and do the work.”

Having worked on the production since last summer, Andoh said it had been an arduous task editing and pulling the script together but the timing of the message couldn’t have been more pertinent. “

John of Gaunt, who is played wonderfully by Dona Croll, is saying, ‘You’re not England’s king, you are England’s landlord, you flogged the country’.

“Another character, the Duke of York said, ‘If you set this house against this house your children and your children’s children will cry woe’, and that to me is what we’re doing with Brexit at the moment – we’re sort of setting people against each other.

“For me, in the time of #MeToo, Brexit, the Windrush scandal and Grenfell Tower, a play that talks about civil unrest and how we are not seeing the value of each other any more but seeing each other as a threat and hostile, it’s timely.”

Richard II, plays at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (the inside theatre at Shakespeare’s Globe) until April 21.

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