Last night AFRUCA attended Ade Solanke’s Pandora’s Box at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston.
The event kicked off at 6.30pm with a pre-show panel about writing contemporary African theatre. The discussion was chaired by Dele Meiji Fatunla (Royal African Society) and consisted of Debbie Ariyo OBE (AFRUCA), Ade Solanke (writer of Pandora’s Box), Gbolahan Obisesan (playwright and director), Professor Osita Okagbue (African Theatre Association)and Dr. Sola Adeyemi (Lecturer and researcher of post-colonial theatre and performance studies).The panel discussed how African writers have changed the stories they write about as time has passed and who has the right to to write about Black/African issues. The panel discussed the recent uproar over Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B and what this means for Black/African theatre. Ade Solanke talked about how she doesn’t believe we can talk about minority theatre anymore due to the change in the UK population and Dr. Sola Adeyemi introduced a new term to the audience – sidestream/mainstream.
Debbie Ariyo OBE shared with the panel how recent Black theatre is reflecting many of the issue we see here at AFRUCA such as parents sending their children abroad to study, clashes between Western and African cultures, expectations of Africans that the West is the way for a better life.
This linked well with Ade Solanke’s observation that playwrights need to consider the story they want to write against the stories people are living today. People no longer seem interested in hearing about slavery and a life in Africa they have never experienced. Black/ Africans are connecting with plays like Pandora’s box and Oliver Tweest which see the struggles between a Black/British child and their African family in a humorous way.
The panel ended and we took a short break whilst the actors got ready for their performance.
The performance starts, set in the backdrop of the living room of the Nigerian daughter left behind so her parents could build a better life, with her UK sister praying for clarity on her current situation. The play tells the story of a mother who has to make the hard decision as to whether she sends her son to a boarding school in Nigeria after he starts making some troublesome friends back in London. Throughout the performance we see many parallels with everyday life as a Black/African in the UK. The ridicule at not being able to speak an African language, being laughed at for your accent, the expectation that you have lots of money and the pressures of not being able to return home a “failure”.
The play highlights key safeguarding issues within the Black/ African community and tries to break down stereotypes of Africans in the motherland and the diaspora in a humorous yet poignant way. At one point the uncle makes a very good point to his sister and niece- “If you think Africa is so great why aren’t you staying here too?” We see the struggles the mum faces having to decide whether to leave her son in a foreign land without his friends and close family or take him back to London and run the risk of him joining a gang.
Pandora’s Box tells a story we have heard and seen many times in AFRUCA before as a charity and as Black/African individuals. Many Africans in this country are struggling to juggle traditional African values with UK customs and this is affecting the safety, health and education of our young people.
Ade Solanke has done an excellent job of tackling these issues in a humorous yet mature way and making it accessible for all ages and ethnicities. Overall, this play is a must see for anyone who wants to explore Black/African theatre that is relevant and suitable for all the family.
To read more about Pandora’s Box or to book tickets: http://www.arcolatheatre.com/production/arcola/pandoras-box-by-ade-solanke