Talawa Theatre Company

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Talawa Theatre Company is a Black British theatre company founded in 1986.[1][2] The core of the company's work is championing reinterpretations of classic plays, developing new writing and directing talent and producing plays from and about the African diaspora.[2][3][4][5] The Company is a National Portfolio Organisation, supported by funding from Arts Council England in recognition of consistent high quality work and audience development.[6]

Since 2011 Talawa Theatre Company has been led by artistic director Michael Buffong, whose career spans theatre, TV and film.[7][8][9][10][10][11]

The name Talawa comes from Jamaican patois saying "me lickle but me talawa",[12] meaning "small but feisty".[4][13]


The company's mission is to provide opportunities for black directors, writers and actors, to use black culture to enrich British theatre, and to enlarge theatre audiences seeing black work.[1] Talawa's work embraces both literary and participation activities, finding and developing new writers and scripts, and developing theatre-makers and directors, alongside workshops for schools, colleges and corporate clients and presenting new work by emerging artists.[7][14]


Jamaican-born Yvonne Brewster, Mona Hammond, Carmen Munroe and Inigo Espejel founded the company in 1986.[1][15][16] Talawa's first production in 1986 was The Black Jacobins by C. L. R. James, a play that had not been performed in England for 50 years, and never before with an all-black cast.[2]

Talawa has produced and toured classic work by numerous playwrights and writers including Dennis Scott, Derek Walcott, Galt McDermot, Wole Soyinka, James Baldwin, Michael Abbensetts, Trevor Rhone, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Tariq Ali and Arthur Miller and worked with a variety of directors and actors including Michaela Coel, Cathy Tyson, Dona Croll, Ray Shell, Norman Beaton, Horace Ove, Paulette Randall, Don Warrington, Fraser Ayres and David Harewood. [17] [2][18]

Previous artistic directors have included Yvonne Brewster, Ben Thomas, Paulette Randall, Bonnie Greer and Patricia Cumper.

Today and Recent Productions[edit]

Talawa Theatre Company's artistic director is Michael Buffong.[19][20]

Talawa Theatre Company produces a major touring production annually.[11]

Moon On A Rainbow Shawl[edit]

The 2013/14 production was a revival of Moon on a Rainbow Shawl by Errol John, directed by Michael Buffong and which toured across the UK, in addition to playing at the Royal National Theatre.[21][22][23] Critics described "this production is an absolute must-see" [24] "a well-crafted slow burner"[25] and "treats the characters as real people rather than outrageous exotics ... Justice, you feel, has at last been done ..."[26]

All My Sons[edit]

Talawa Theatre Company toured a revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons in Spring 2015.[27][28][28][29][30]

Critics described the production as "heart wrenching" [31] and "Talawa’s contribution to the Arthur Miller centenary ... is a worthwhile one" [32] which "ratchets up the tension" [33]

King Lear[edit]

In October 2015, Talawa announced a new production of William Shakespeare's King Lear starring Don Warrington in the title role.[20][34][35] King Lear was co-produced with the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

Reviews singled out the production as being "as close to definitive as can be",[36][37] "a significant production"[38] and "outstanding".[39] Don Warrington's performance as King Lear was described as "a heartbreaking tour de force".[40]

In late June 2016, Talawa Theatre Company announced the film of King Lear, in a collaboration with the Royal Exchange Theatre and funded by the digital commissioning body The Space, the film was available to view on-demand and free of charge on BBC iPlayer and the British Council's websites for three months in summer 2016, ahead of a cinema release in September and October 2016, and closed 2016 by being screened on BBC4 on Christmas Day.[41][42][43][44][45]


Also in 2016, Talawa also co-produced the award-winning play by Theresa Ikoko,[46] Girls, the story of three young women kidnapped by extremists.[46][47][48][49][50][51]

The Times referred to Girls as “Scorchingly intelligent and as powerful as a gut punch”[47] while Time Out called it " ... clever, audacious, entertaining and full of promise." [52][53]

Theresa Ikoko commented on her experience of working with Talawa to get the story produced, saying: "This isn’t the first play I’ve written, but it’s my first produced play. The first play I wrote, I didn’t really know it was a play, it was just for me. I would read it over the phone to my friend and when I’d finished he said I had to show it to someone. Talawa Theatre Company found me and [artistic director] Michael Buffong put that play in a Talawa Firsts show, and I got signed by my agent there ... Talawa completely took a chance on me. I had no training or experience or credentials, and there was no one to offer a reference. But Michael believed in me. It took me forever though, probably until the opening night of Girls at HighTide, for me to believe him."[54]


In autumn 2016, the Arts Council England announced that it had awarded £478,671 to a partnership between Talawa Theatre Company and Birmingham Repertory Theatre to boost the visibility and profile of established and emerging Black and Minority Ethnic talent with a three month West End Theatre season with a wrap around festival of new work.[55][56]

A further award of more than £400,000 was awarded to a consortium led by Tiata Fahodzi, of which Talawa Theatre Company is a part, to support the development of established and emerging BAME theatre makers and to increase their representation across the wider theatre sector.[56][57]

Artist Development[edit]

As well as touring major works across the UK, Talawa Theatre Company commissions new plays, develops artists and directors.

In January 2017 Talawa announced the creation of MAKE, a career development community of Black theatre artists.[58][59][60] Called MAKE, the new career development community creates 250 new opportunities for Black artists every year, across four areas, enabling artists to make connections and build the support they need to create new work.[61][62][63] A Talawa spokesperson commented that "Diversity projects tend to be just that – projects – and as a quick-fix approach, they are not building an infrastructure. What we need is sustained engagement that provides artists with a pathway into the industry, and the footholds to keep them there ...".[64]

Talawa also offers a script reading service and produces an annual season of play readings, Talawa Firsts, which showcases the best new black writing talent. The Company also supports and develops emerging theatre-makers[7] – performers, designers and technicians – through their flagship participation programme TYPT and Talawa Firsts.[14][15][16][65]


  1. ^ a b c "Black & Asian Performance in Britain 1970 onwards - Talawa Theatre Company". V&A.
  2. ^ a b c d "Records of Talawa Theatre Company, 1962-2007", Victoria and Albert Museum: Theatre Collections.
  3. ^ Helen Kolawole, "Look who's taking the stage", The Guardian, 26 July 2003.
  4. ^ a b "New Black theatre companies", Moving Here – Migration histories.
  5. ^ Talawa Theatre Company website.
  6. ^ http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/our-investment-2015-18/national-portfolio-organisations
  7. ^ a b c https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/interviews/2016/michael-buffong-putting-black-actors-stage-easy-bit/
  8. ^ Natalie Woolman, "Michael Buffong appointed Talawa artistic director", The Stage, 13 October 2011.
  9. ^ Lyn Gardner, "Do we need diversity quotas for theatre?", The Guardian, 9 June 2015.
  10. ^ a b Georgia Snow, "Michael Buffong: ‘Use diversity quotas or nothing will change’", The Stage, 5 June 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Bringing Black into the Theatre Mainstream" (Michael Buffong profile), Arts Industry (AI), 16 December 2012.
  12. ^ "Our Story", Talawa website.
  13. ^ Nisha Obano, "Talawa Theatre Company". Encyclopedia of AfroEuropean Studies.
  14. ^ a b "Talawa's Mission", Talawa Theatre website.
  15. ^ a b Nick Curtis, "Michael Buffong: ‘I want to turn Talawa into the go-to company for black talent’", London Evening Standard, 15 August 2012.
  16. ^ a b Nosheen Iqbal, "Talawa theatre company: the fights of our lives", The Guardian, 29 May 2011.
  17. ^ http://www.talawa.com/articles/30-years-of-achievement/
  18. ^ Tony Howard, "We need more racial diversity on the stage both sides of the pond", New Statesman, 25 March 2014.
  19. ^ Matthew Hemley, "National Theatre and RSC should 'lead by example' by appointing more BAME associates, says Verma", The Stage, 22 April 2015.
  20. ^ a b Vanessa Thorpe, "After a century of black British theatre, actors still struggle to take centre stage" (on Lenny Henry's BBC Radio 4 series), The Observer, 25 October 2015.
  21. ^ https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2013/talawas-michael-buffong-to-revive-moon-on-a-rainbow-shawl/
  22. ^ "Moon on a Rainbow Shawl by Errol John", National Theatre.
  23. ^ Kate Kellaway, "Moon on a Rainbow Shawl; Can We Talk about This?; Shivered – review", The Observer, 18 March 2012.
  24. ^ http://exeuntmagazine.com/reviews/moon-on-a-rainbow-shawl/
  25. ^ http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/moon-on-a-rainbow-shawl-national-se1-review-7573175.html
  26. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2012/mar/15/moon-rainbow-shawl-review
  27. ^ "All My Sons tour marks Arthur Miller centenary", BBC News, 13 February 2015.
  28. ^ a b Andrew Clarke, "All My Sons review", The Stage, 18 February 2015.
  29. ^ Glen Pearce, "All My Sons – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich", The Public Reviews, 17 February 2015.
  30. ^ Anne Morley-Priestman, "All My Sons (Tour) - 'Michael Buffong ratchets up the tension'", What's On Stage, 18 February 2015.
  31. ^ http://www.thereviewshub.com/all-my-sons-richmond-theatre-london/
  32. ^ https://theoxfordculturereview.com/2015/03/19/review-all-my-sons/
  33. ^ http://www.whatsonstage.com/ipswich-theatre/reviews/all-my-sons-talawa-tour_37186.html
  34. ^ "Don Warrington to play King Lear", Talawa.
  35. ^ David Hutchinson, "Don Warrington cast as King Lear at the Royal Exchange", The Stage, 12 October 2015.
  36. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/apr/07/king-lear-review-royal-exchange-manchester
  37. ^ http://www.talawa.com/articles/king-lear-reviewed/
  38. ^ http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/times2/theatre-king-lear-at-the-royal-exchange-manchester-6z7xh5r8d
  39. ^ https://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/2016/king-lear-review-at-the-royal-exchange-theatre-manchester/
  40. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/don-warringtons-king-lear-is-a-heartbreaking-tour-de-force/
  41. ^ https://www.thespace.org/artwork/talawa-king-lear
  42. ^ https://www.royalexchange.co.uk/king-lear-the-film
  43. ^ http://www.talawa.com/articles/king-lear-the-film/
  44. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b086kg3n
  45. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/programmes/schedules/2016/12/25
  46. ^ a b http://www.talawa.com/articles/reviews-for-girls/
  47. ^ a b http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/theatre-hightide-festival-at-aldeburgh-suffolk-bxgtjktl7
  48. ^ https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/girls-is-a-play-about-how-we-forget-the-victims-of-terrorism
  49. ^ https://www.thefword.org.uk/2016/09/theresa-ikoko-interview/
  50. ^ http://www.broadwayworld.com/westend/article/BWW-Review-GIRLS-Soho-Theatre-1-October-2016-20161002
  51. ^ https://theatrecat.com/2016/09/18/girls-hightide-festival-aldeburgh/
  52. ^ http://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/girls
  53. ^ http://www.talawa.com/articles/reviews-for-girls
  54. ^ https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/interviews/2016/theresa-ikoko-putting-your-work-out-there-is-like-sending-your-child-to-school-naked/
  55. ^ http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/news-and-jobs/%C2%A346-million-help-diversity-flourish
  56. ^ a b http://www.talawa.com/articles/talawa-sustained/
  57. ^ http://www.tiatafahodzi.com/blog/consortium-led-by-tiata-fahodzi-wins-ace-sustained-theatre-fund/
  58. ^ https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2017/talawa-launches-make-scheme-support-black-artists-theatre/
  59. ^ http://www.broadwayworld.com/uk-regional/article/Talawa-Theatre-Creates-New-Industry-Pathway-For-Black-Artists-20170201
  60. ^ http://www.talawa.com/articles/make-a-brand-new-community-of-black-artists/
  61. ^ https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2017/talawa-launches-make-scheme-support-black-artists-theatre/
  62. ^ http://www.broadwayworld.com/uk-regional/article/Talawa-Theatre-Creates-New-Industry-Pathway-For-Black-Artists-20170201
  63. ^ http://www.talawa.com/articles/make-a-brand-new-community-of-black-artists/
  64. ^ https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2017/talawa-launches-make-scheme-support-black-artists-theatre/
  65. ^ John Nassouri, "Islington people: BBC director takes reins at Black-led theatre company", Islington Gazette, 24 June 2012.

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