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By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson


Thursday, October 28, 2010.


He has been at the forefront of theatre practice in the UK for almost two decades. After training as a director in the mid 1990s, his acting roles soon gave way to prominent stints as Artistic Director for West Yorkshire Playhouse and ‘theatre of the emancipated’ Tiata Fahodzi - which he founded and headed for thirteen years.


Femi Elufowoju, Jr’s upbringing - British born and Nigerian raised - mirrors that of an exciting group of writers, performers and artists excelling in all areas of British culture.  He has performed at The Royal Court and The National. He has been seen on TV in thriller series Moses Jones and comedy sketch show Little Miss Jocelyn, and recorded dozens of radio plays for the BBC.


Until striking out on his own earlier this year, Tiata Fahodzi was the place where his reputation as one of the country’s foremost theatre directors was reinforced. Joe Guy, The Estate, The Gods are Not to Blame, and national tours of Abyssinia, Makinde and Bonded, all have his Tiata Fahodzi stamp. Earlier this year, the directorial contribution to developing writers, artists and theatre was recognised with an Olivier Award nomination for outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre for Oladipo Agboluaje’s Iya-Ile (The First Wife), which he also directed.


Tiata Delights - the company’s play reading festival showcasing playwrights of African descent - provides a much-needed platform for the work of new and upcoming writers.  Levi David Addai’s Oxford Street (Royal Court) Lucian Msamati’s Zuva Crumbling (Lyric Hammersmith), and Lizzy Dijeh’s High Life (Oval House), and Michael Bhim’s The Golden Hour (Almeida Theatre], all started out at Tiata Delights before being produced nationally. 


The skills of Elufowoju Jr, who is also the current Associate Artist at Islington’s Almeida theatre, have also been seen with Bone for the Royal Court, Medea and Off Camera for West Yorkshire Playhouse, Dealer’s Choice for Salisbury Playhouse, Tickets & Ties and It’s Good to Talk for Theatre Royal, Stratford East.


Recently, he was involved in the BBC World Service production Stages of Independence, an evening of African-penned plays marking the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the end of colonialism in Africa. And dramas brought to life by the now freelancing Elufowoju, Jr., are to be broadcast by the BBC over the coming months. 


Elufowoju Jr, is the father of three daughters and his latest directorial work at the Arcola Theatre – Joe Penhall’s highly praised play Blue/Orange, about institutional politics, mental health and race – will be in an environment he is more than familiar with.  It was at that North East London venue that Tiata Delights began in 2004.


I spoke with the multi-tasking Elufowoju, Jr.,  recently about the tenth anniversary revival of Joe Penhall’s drama, a secret desire to pursue his acting career and the perils of directing.



How are you recreating Blue/Orange 10 years since its premiere?


Femi Elufowoju, Jr:


This is definitely one of the big, significant plays in modern British theatre history. The most significant thing about this production is that we have switched the gender. It seemed pertinent to talk about the play with women playing those central roles. I also wanted to talk about women’s commitment to the mental health service, and the National Health Service - a contribution that has stretched over years at a local, national and international level.  So ten years on it seemed very, very pertinent to revisit the universal themes that the play engages with. What we will show is that it actually it does have relevance in today’s society and needs to be retold.  



Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bill Nighy and Andrew Lincoln all appeared in the first award winning production. Do you think it can have the same impact this time?


Femi Elufowoju, Jr:


Helen Schlesinger, who has a very rich background at The Royal Court and National Theatre; Esther Hall (the face of BT ad campaign) is such a credible actor and Ayesha Antoine [nominated for a TMA Award for best supporting performance in My Wonderful Day] are all actors at the top of their game. I am hoping that their careers won’t be dented at all by doing this.



You’ve worked with Joe Penhall before; [on Moses Jones] what is so interesting about his writing for you?


Femi Elufowoju, Jr:


His writing is fierce, it is witty, it is completely redolent for dramatic interplay - it gives me as the director the most amazing set of tools to play with. There is a lot of debate going on but it connects with absolutely every single strata of the community - young, old, middle aged - it is a play for everyone.



You took Tiata Fahodzi forward as founder from its inception in 1997 to where it is now - what was the highlight of those 13 years?


Femi Elufowoju, Jr:


It was the acknowledgement of the company’s contribution to the grand design of what British theatre is today; that affirmation came in the shape of an Olivier Award nomination for Iya Ile [The First Wife]. We were being feted as one of the most significant theatre companies around. That had never happened in my thirteen years; I couldn’t attain anything bigger than that for the company.


How have things changed in that period, for the writing and theatre that Tiata have been promoting, encouraging and supporting?


Femi Elufowoju, Jr:


I recall chasing the audience and chasing the venues; now it is in reverse; [there is] more respect, an admiration that the work is pertinent. I think we will get to a point where the work will be ethnically indistinguishable in terms of its appreciation. We haven’t got there yet but we will get there.


We don’t see you as an actor very much these days – have you decided that directing is the best way to tell stories and release your own creativity?


Femi Elufowoju, Jr:


I love acting but I have done a lot less of it [recently] because of my directing commitments. It is safer to be an actor because the expectations are very straightforward; you turn up for work, you rehearse and you perform. Directing is more forensic…you have to read, to decipher the play and to understand it; and you have the additional role of conveying the ethos,  you [also] have to get the production together and in addition to all of that - what they don’t teach you – is managing personalities. You have to be a father, a brother, a mentor and counsellor…and a visionary, unfortunately you can’t be all of those things. This interview is going to dissuade a whole generation of up and coming directors!


Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall

Directed by Femi Elufowoju, jr

Arcola Theatre

27 Arcola Street

London E8 2DJ


until 20 November 2010


Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.

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