What are the themes of your play?
The main themes are Black male displacement/isolation; this country’s political betrayal of its colonial legacy; and notions of ‘home’ – is home a tangible, external location such as a postcode or country, or is it a space deep inside ourselves where we feel unshakeably whole and complete?
Why did you write it and why now?
I wrote the first episode – ‘Eunice’ – of the BBC4 series, ‘Windrush Monologues: Soon Gone. But I was originally allocated the second episode, the story of Cyrus, the male character. I’d already begun my research and roughly sketched out his storyline before I was switched to Eunice’s story. By this time, I’d become very fond of Cyrus and his story. Around this time, the Windrush deportations had become front page news. I read up on the personal stories of these targeted people, and their pain and vulnerability really got to me. I shared online posts about the subject, signed petitions, and attended a few meetings, including one at the House of Commons. I thought of the upheavals, the sacrifices, the suffering and the long road travelled by my parent’s generation to establish their children in this country. It’s not enough that our islands and our people have been so blatantly exploited, now we, the second generation are to be trashed and discarded after our parents have served their useful purpose. Just because the headlines have now shifted elsewhere (currently raising its shrill voice against Meghan Markle), it doesn’t mean that the deportations have stopped, they’re continuing, right now, as I’m writing this. It’s imperative that we are all informed of the injustices that are going on behind closed doors. Something had to be done, so I decided to resurrect my original character of Cyrus and to ask myself: what if this had become the fate of his son of my own generation? What is the road that would have taken Trevor (Foreign’s hero) there? We are encouraged to believe that the deportees are mainly criminals and ‘undesirable’ elements, but were it not for my father insisting that I complete those naturalisation papers back in the 70’s, I myself could be facing exactly the same predicament. Foreign is the story of how the UK has reneged on its responsibilities and is destroying the lives of innocent people whose British citizenship, criminal record or not, should never be under question.
Which playwrights are you influenced by and why?
To be honest, there was a long period when, as a single parent, regular theatre-going was financially out of my reach* and TV was the next best option. Then I started writing for TV, and for 20+ years I became stuck in that groove. It’s only been in the last eight years or so that I’ve become an avid theatre-goer. I haven’t latched onto any particular playwright, though Lorraine Hansberry as a classic, and Winsome Pinnock and Kwame Kwei-Armah as more contemporary examples spring to mind. Watching plays, for me, is like book-reading. I’ve read many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wide-ranging titles and subjects, totally immersing myself in each writer’s landscape, but once I’m done and onto a new book/show, that last experience is already waning in my memory and being replaced by the next. You could call it forgetfulness, I like to describe it as a healthy capacity for being in-the-moment!
*I’ve recently become a Patron of The Black Ticket Project. It’s a great way to encourage and support a new wave of black theatregoers who would not normally attend black-themed shows because of affordability issues.
What do you want to achieve as a playwright?
The generation that bore the brunt of the horrors of immigration and racism in order to make their new home in this country are now either dying or their minds are being lost to Alzheimer’s. As a black, UK playwright I feel that I owe it to that generation to keep their voices and their invaluable contributions to this country alive. Many of us had no, or very little, connection with our grandparents on the islands. Our parents’ generation is the bedrock of our sense of who we are today, and the last link to the ghosts of those ancestors we left behind. If my mother and father were too exhausted or not sufficiently educated to tell their story, then it is up to me, for the sake of my own children’s sense of identity and self-worth, to keep those home (paraffin) fires burning.