Jimmy Akingbola On … Black, White & the BNPDate: 22 October 2009
Jimmy Akingbola is currently appearing in the Tricycle Theatre's Not Black and White season, featuring premieres of work by three of the country's leading black contemporary playwrights - Roy Williams (Category B), Kwame Kwei-Armah (Seize the Day) and Bola Agbaje (Detaining Justice).
Not Black and White is a fantastic season which coincides with Black History month - it's the first season dedicated to black British writing that the Tricycle has staged. We're premiering new plays by three writers - Roy Williams, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Bola Agbaje – who are all top quality writers that it's an actor's dream to work with.
What's so exciting about this season is that it's our stories. Normally we're telling American stories, which is great, but it's so nice to do plays featuring 21st century young black British voices. And the plays aren't just about race issues – Roy's is about the prison system, Kwame's is about politics and Bola's is about immigration. Category B has already been getting four and five star reviews, so we're off to a great start.
I'm in two of the three plays (Category B and Detaining Justice), and it's nice to be able to tackle two very different characters, as well as writing and directing styles. It's like the old rep system. It's a unique discipline which is dying out in this country – as actors we like to be challenged, and there's nothing quite like juggling several characters in your head at once. It works out well for audiences too, because they can come and see three different plays over the course of a few days, and see the same actors tackling completely contrasting roles.
I see the season as a celebration of black writing, as opposed to an attempt to redress some kind of imbalance. Although arguably black writers are under-represented in film and TV, I don't think that's the case in theatre. Also, it's hard to ignore the Obama factor at the moment, and at the other end of the spectrum there's the recent election of the BNP, and Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time this week.
Personally, at first I was against the idea but then I felt that maybe it's best to let him have his say, so he can't claim to be gagged. I hope that it will expose him – I'm aware that it could go the other way, but I think in some ways it would be a mistake to deny him that platform.
There have been massive improvements in this country in terms of multiculturalism – there's still a long way to go, but we're undeniably in a better place now than we were. And Not Black and White is a reflection of that improvement, and a reminder of the huge wealth of talent we have in this country. All credit to Nicolas Kent for deciding to do it.
Looking forward, I've got some exciting projects in the pipeline, including a couple of meetings in LA over the next few months. Also, I'm part of a company called Triforce Promotions which organises monthly networking nights in London, and the other thing I do is a free actors' showcase called Monologue Slam. Upcoming actors can come on down and do a monologue in front of agents, producers and casting directors, which gives them a free platform to showcase their work and also do a bit of networking – I know how difficult it can be to get a leg up in the industry so this is a way of opening doors.
- Jimmy Akingbola was speaking to Theo Bosanquet