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 consistently high quality artistic work and audience development,[6] with an uplift in its grant for the period between 2018 - 2022.[7][8]

Since 2011 Talawa Theatre Company has been led by artistic director Michael Buffong, whose career spans theatre, TV and film.[9][10][11][12][12][13]

The name Talawa comes from Jamaican patois saying "me lickle but me talawa",[14] meaning "small but feisty".[4][15]


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 touring classic work on the mid-scale to regional theatres in the UK, 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.[9][16]


Jamaican-born Yvonne Brewster, Mona Hammond, Carmen Munroe and Inigo Espejel founded the company in 1986.[1][17][18] 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. [19][2][20]

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.[21][22] Michael Buffong featured on Creative Review's '50 Creative Leaders' list in 2017,[23] having also featured in the Powerlist, celebrating Britain's most influential people of African or African Caribbean heritage.[24]

Talawa Theatre Company produces a major touring production annually.[13]

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.[25][26][27] Critics described the show as "an absolute must-see" [28] "a well-crafted slow burner"[29] and "treats the characters as real people rather than outrageous exotics ... Justice, you feel, has at last been done ..."[30]

All My Sons[edit]

Talawa Theatre Company toured a revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons in Spring 2015.[31][32][32][33][34]

Critics described the production as "heart wrenching" [35] and "Talawa’s contribution to the Arthur Miller centenary ... is a worthwhile one" [36] which "ratchets up the tension" [37]

King Lear[edit]

In October 2015, Talawa announced a new production of William Shakespeare's King Lear starring Don Warrington in the title role.[22][38][39] 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",[40][41] "a significant production"[42] and "outstanding".[43] Don Warrington's performance as King Lear was described as "a heartbreaking tour de force".[44]

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.[45][46][47][48][49]


Also in 2016, Talawa also co-produced the award-winning play by Theresa Ikoko,[50] Girls, the story of three young women kidnapped by extremists.[50][51][52][53][54][55]

The Times referred to Girls as “Scorchingly intelligent and as powerful as a gut punch”[51] while Time Out called it " ... clever, audacious, entertaining and full of promise." [56][57]

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."[58]

In 2017, Girls went on tour with a new cast, having first played at Edinburgh Festival where it was presented as part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase.[59]

Half Breed[edit]

Described variously as a story about growing up mixed-race, and as a story about friendship, Half Breed was written by Natasha Marshall and first performed at Talawa Firsts 2016 before being developed further by both Talawa and Soho Theatre.[60] That same partnership presented Half Breed at Edinburgh in summer 2017.[61][62][63][64] At the time Marshall said "My whole lifeI’ve been holding my breath but when I perform Half-Breed I feel like I’m breathing. I want to bring something real and different to the Fringe. I want to create a conversation, I want to open people’s minds up.” [65]

Half Breed was nominated as a 'Best New Play' at the UK Theatre Awards.[66][60] Half Breed was also nominated for the 'Best New Play', 'Best Female Performance' and 'Most Promising New Playwright' awards in the Offies, an award presented by Off West End.[67]

Half Breed had a sell-out London run following its success at Edinburgh.[60][68] The co-production of Half Breed also toured India in autumn 2017, where it was well received by audiences and critics alike. [69][70][71][72][73]

Half Breed will also tour the UK in Spring 2018 as a co-production between Talawa Theatre Company and Soho Theatre.[74][75]

Guys and Dolls[edit]

Talawa announced their winter 2017 co-production with the Royal Exchange Theatre of the Damon Runyon inspired musical, Guys and Dolls, the first in the UK with an all-Black cast.[76][77][78][76][79][80] Among the cast announced for Guys and Dolls were Ray Fearon, Ashley Zhanghazha, Abiona Omonua, and Lucy Vandi.[81][82] Guys and Dolls played at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre in an extended run from December 2017 to February 2018.

Reviews had particular praise for the music, direction, relocation to Harlem and sense of spectacle: "the gamblers ... are a bunch of sharp-suited peacocks clad in rainbow hues." [83] ; "Whoever had the idea of moving this classic musical from one part of New York to another bit, just up the road, needs to be congratulated. This version of Frank Loesser’s musical, which swirls around the lives of the petty gangsters and their “dolls” who inhabit New York’s underbelly, moves the action to Harlem at its prewar height in 1939. It is a Talawa production with an all-black cast and it is terrific from the get-go." [84] ; "Relocated to Harlem, this fine new production of Frank Loesser’s classic musical retains a threat of violence under a cartoon-bright exterior". [85]


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.[86][87]

A further award of more than £400,000 was awarded to a consortium, 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.[87][88]

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.[89][90][91] 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.[89][90][91] 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 ...".[89]

As part of MAKE, 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[9] – performers, designers and technicians – through their flagship participation programmes TYPT, Studio Firsts and Talawa Firsts.[16][17][18][92]


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