Playmill Preview: Umuada

June 1, 2018

 

‘I have always been passionate about centring, exploring and making visible the black experience through art. By exploring a topic that is so often shrouded in silence, partly because many of our cultures do not even have the means for articulation, nuance was vital. Mental health within the black community is not a stand alone issue - it intersects with our socio-economic, racial and psychological struggles, many of which are exacerbated through the disruption of diaspora, the dislocation of migration, and, when it comes to women, the strain of motherhood. I am fascinated by unheard stories, and wanted to create a play within which my parent’s generation could recognise a portion of themselves, of their lives played out in a space that rarely even acknowledges their existence. Natasha Gordon’s Nine Night [National Theatre] powerfully portrayed the rituals of grief within a Jamaican family and certainly influenced this new version of the script and direction. Directing and developing UMUADA for the Play Mill Festival has enabled me to  expand and develop the world, characters and themes explored and share this poignant story with a wider audience in turn, inviting more people to take part in a vital and delicate dialogue that is essential to the health and well-being of many, but especially, black communities. In my attempts to explore the complexity of such characters, I hope that UMUADA becomes part of the process by which, as black people, especially in regards to motherhood, migration and mental health, we are able to reclaim our full humanity with all it’s nuance, difference and intrigue.’

Justina Kehinde - Writer/Director/Executive Producer

 

‘When Justina asked me to come on board as dramaturge for UMUADA, I was thrilled at the opportunity to help craft the architecture and shape of the story we started writing together.  Theatre has the power to bring you into a world, a family, a state of mind, or just another room. With a family grappling with a complex web of issues at its heart - migration, mental health, gender - issues that ultimately shape how we see ourselves and each other, I’m driven by the challenge of translating the play’s emotion onto the stage.’

Yosola Olorunshola - Dramaturge

 

'I wanted to help promote the narratives of individuals whose voices have been previously muted in the British theatre scene, and help share this moving and powerful story with new audiences.'

Emma Priech - Producer

 

‘I wanted to be a part of UMUADA because it’s showcasing the intergenerational relationships between women, specifically women of African descent.’

Jess Layde - Actor

 

‘At what point do we forget who we are? Know where we are?’

 

Anwu is turning 60. Against her wishes her daughters, Nike and Tolu are preparing a party. Their older brother, Chi, is nowhere to be seen and Dad is in Nigeria building the family home that never seems to finish. In the midst of the chaos Anwu struggles to hold her family together, and hold onto herself in the process.

 

Written and directed by Justina Kehinde, UMUADA is a poignant yet witty family drama, which explores the  nuances of mental health, migration and motherhood in the urban African diaspora. Based on the short play by Justina Kehinde and Yosola Olorunshola, UMUADA first premiered at the Bunker Theatre in November 2017 as part of Damsel Develops Women Director’s Festival.
 

UMUADA is a 60-minute play exploring mental health, migration and motherhood in the urban African diaspora, set to be performed at The King’s Head Theatre, Islington, 10 - 14th July 2018.

 

UMUADA first premiered as a work-in-progress at the Bunker Theatre in November 2017 to a sold-out audience, as part of Damsel Productions Women-Directors festival. We are now staging a lengthened and adapted version to bring the story and its subject to a wider audience in London. Running over five nights, the play will be performed to up to 120 seats per show.

 

Mental health poses acute challenges in the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Black men in the UK are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a severe mental health condition.  Black people are four times more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. While shocking, these statistics are inadequate to understand the interlocking socioeconomic, racial and psychological pressures that weigh upon black families. In a culture that struggles to find a language for mental health, UMUADA weaves a personal tale to create a dialogue around an urgent issue, too often shrouded in silence.

 

Meaning ‘first-born daughters’ in Igbo, UMUADA centres on the protagonist Anwu, who is turning 60. Against her wishes her daughters, Nike and Tolu are preparing a party in their London home. Their older brother, Chi, is nowhere to be seen and their father is in Nigeria building the family home that never seems to finish due to financial difficulties. In the midst of the chaos Anwu struggles to hold her family together, and hold onto herself in the process.

 

The play takes place over 24 hours, a compact timeframe that captures Anwu’s mounting anxiety as she waits for her son Chi to return home for her birthday. Suffering from severe depression, Chi’s behaviour is increasingly unpredictable as he distances himself from the family. As Chi’s absence becomes more and more disconcerting, Anwu struggles to accept the truth of her son’s condition, or recognise the toll the challenges of motherhood have taken on her own state of mind.

 

Delving deeply into Anwu’s loss of identity, UMUADA is a reflection on the difficulty of raising a family in a land that is not her own. It offers a multi-layered picture of mental health through the prisms of gender and displacement, across several generations -  a meditation on the dislocation and disruption brought by migranthood and motherhood.

 

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