Yvonne Brewster OBE co-founded Talawa Theatre Company along with Carmen Munroe, Mona Hammond and Inigo Espejel.
Talawa was created in direct response to Yvonne Brewster’s recognition of the lack of creative opportunities for actors from minority ethnic backgrounds and the general marginalisation of Black peoples from cultural processes that was prevalent at the time of the Company’s inception. Since 1986, Talawa has grown to become one of the most successful Black theatre companies in the UK. It has mounted more than forty productions – many of which are award-winning – taking in everything from Shakespeare to African classics, Oscar Wilde to new Black British work and Nobel-prize winning playwrights to high-voltage musicals. The Company has performed the work of writers such as C.L.R. James, Derek Walcott, Michael Abbensetts, Wole Soyinka, Patricia Cumper, Mustapha Matura and Michael Bhim. (source: Talawa Theatre Company)
Yvonne was awarded an OBE in 1993 for Services to the Arts.
Yvonne has edited two collections of plays published by Oberon Books, Mixed Company: Three Early Jamaican Plays by Sylvia Winter, Louis Marriott, Cecily Waite-Smith and For The Reckord, three plays by Barry Reckord.
Along with Oscar James and Roland Rees, Yvonne created The Alfred Fagon Award to commemorate Alfred’s life and work and to recognise the craft of playwriting by Black British writers.
Sheelagh Killeen studied at Tiffins then Wimbledon College of Art, Theatre Department and completed a post-graduate course at Slade School of Fine Art, University College London where she also studied stage design.
She started work at Covent Garden, the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells, working in different departments before being employed as Assistant Designer to Adrian Vaux at the Mermaid Theatre for three years of tenure. There she designed the costumes and sometimes sets for many productions.
Sheelagh moved onto the BBC Costumes Department in Birmingham before working for ABC TV where she spent 11years at the ATV Elstree Studios becoming a Senior Costume Designer working on many big Period productions including Life of Nelson directed by Simon Langton, and filming in Italy for Life of Disraalie directed by Claude Whatham .
Sheelagh created costumes for Bubbling Brown Sugar, the west end musical re-realised for television. She became a freelance costume designer and worked on films Sweet William and Buddy’s Song for Don Boyd Productions.
Sheelagh created 200 costumes for Giordano’s Opera, Andrea Chenier, for the Welsh National Opera Company and 1,000 Costumes for Forbidden Territory, directed by Simon Langton, for Hallmark Productions, filmed in Kenya, Africa.
Sheelagh was on the board of FOCO NOVO Theatre Company and designed costumes for their Productions A Seventh Man, Play Mas, Puntila, Snap and Bloody Poetry.
After a career as a costume designer Sheelagh started her own Company Art/Lit Consultancy Ltd promoting writers to publishers and artists to galleries.
Sheelagh is Treasurer of The Alfred Fagon Award and has been associated with it since it began. She is the Award archivist and sits on the selection committee for the Best New Play of the Year Award.
Oscar James has had a long and varied career, but is best known for appearing on British television, in particular the BBC soap opera EastEnders, where he played original character, Tony Carpenter, for over two years. James resides in North London.
James came from a poor upbringing in Trinidad to England in the 1950s. He initially worked as a taxi driver, a dish-washer and also a gymnast, but he always had aspirations to be an entertainer and followed his dream by becoming an actor.
Roles for black actors were sparse during James’ early career, but he persevered to become the fourth black actor to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and the first black actor to play Macbeth.
James had early roles in television programmes such as Softly, Softly (1966); Love Thy Neighbour (1975); Quiller (1975); Gangsters (1976); Angels (1976); The Professionals; Out (1978); Minder (1979); Shoestring (1980) and The Gentle Touch (1984).
He was the first black actor to appear on the ITV soap opera Emmerdale Farm in 1972, teaching Seth Armstrong to read.
However, he is best known for his role as Tony Carpenter in the BBC television soap opera EastEnders. James was one of the original cast members, appearing in the series from its debut in 1985 until 1987.
Other TV credits include: Minder in the Series 1 episode Come in T-64, Your Time Is Ticking Away, Casualty (1996), Lovejoy (1994), London’s Burning (2002), Doctors (2002; 2005), The Bill (2006), The Line of Beauty (2006), Holby City (2006), Dream Team (2002), Afterlife (2005) and the television drama Angel Cake (2006).
He also appeared in the 2005 Tim Burton adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where he played a shopkeeper.
In 2004 James played Herbert in Oxford Road: the Story, a radio play in which he worked alongside Dona Croll, an actress he had previously worked with on Elmina’s Kitchen at the National Theatre. Elmina’s Kitchen was adapted into a BBC Four televised film in 2005, in which James also starred.
(source: The British Blacklist)
Roland Rees co-founded as Artistic Director Foco Novo, one of the earliest, innovative touring UK Fringe Theatre companies. He commissioned and directed many new plays, including The Elephant Man, seen in his Foco Novo production at the Hampstead Theatre and the National Theatre. The play went to Broadway, and the story was later filmed. In sixteen years with Foco Novo he worked experimentally with new writers, designers, actors, musicians, producers and administrators who have taken their experience into mainstream theatre, TV and films (source: Oberon Books).
Roland was a long-time friend and colleague of Alfred, directing three of his plays, 11 Josephine House in 1972 at Almost Free Theatre/Interaction, Death of a Blackman at Hampstead Theatre in 1975 and in 1983 Sleeping Policeman at Royal Court Upstairs.
Roland is featured in the Unfinished Histories archive.
Roland died in 2015. The Roland Rees Bursary has been created in his name.
Paul Stephenson OBE is a civil rights campaigner. In 1963 Paul led a boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Company who refused to employ Black and Asian drivers. Supported by thousands of Bristolians the company revoked its colour bar sixty days later. After a lifetime of campaigning he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Bristol in 2007 and in 2009 he received an OBE for services to equal opportunities.