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What are the themes of your play?

The Fire This Time is one of the first plays I’ve written where the themes weren’t evident to me. Instead, it began with one question: How do young second / third generation immigrants navigate their Britishness? This is why the story follows a black child adopted into a British family, travelling through the education system. In that way, I guess identity is a central theme in the play. Who are we? How and why do we adopt these identities? What effect does this have on us?

These are important questions to me and they extend beyond the realm of race. I hope The Fire This Time helps initiate conversations around gender, class, sexuality – even whether one considers themselves ‘studious’. It’s why, despite being a one-man play, it became incredibly important to use archival audio and poetry to create a collection of characters who can embody these different identities. It was clear that as I was writing these characters that I was becoming increasingly interested in interrogating whether they – and by extension we – have control over our identities or whether they control us. Whilst I didn’t quite realise this till my fourth draft, every character is somewhat trapped in a way of seeing the world and pulled between their interlocking identities. I imagine it’s a theme that snuck into my play because I often find myself forced to police and manage my behaviour. For me this is a key part of how structural oppression operates. Marginalised communities internalise negative thoughts and begin to self-police. The only question is: does this mean we have the keys to our own freedom?

With all of this in mind, I know one other question has followed me through the writing of this play: What is violence? The Fire This Time is a play in which every character experiences a moment of violence towards them, but I became increasingly interested in how different actions cause hurt. When do words become more violent than fists? When is the wallet a sword or a shield? When are pride and joy actually harmful? I don’t know how well the play truly explores these questions, but these are certainly what pass through my head every time I go to redraft the script.

Why did you write it and why now?

The Fire This Time would not exist without the 2020 Black Lives Matter Protests after the murder of George Floyd. While Britain was debating whether Churchill has a hero or a colonist, I was reflecting on whether I could even consider myself British. I took to writing poetry about this experience. Of feeling like the adopted child – the Black sheep. I’d wanted to write a poetry anthology titled The Miseducation of Britney’s Child which mapped my feelings and took on the structure of Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation album. The hope was to, in one collection, express every thought I had on being Black and British, so I never had to think about it again. Of course, this anthology has never been completed.

Three years later and I still felt overpowered by the feeling that the public hadn’t adopted a more nuanced and fluid understanding of identity in the post-George Floyd world. In a lot of ways, this is why I felt like returning to the Miseducation project. After reading the works of thinkers like bell hooks, Stuart Hall, and James Baldwin, I knew I had so much more to say. I’d then spent time writing essays, poetry, and theatre. This work certainly lay the foundations for The Fire This Time but every play I had attempted over the months didn’t quite work. My why was clear: a desperate need to talk through the myriad of questions that raced through me about identity, choice, and violence.

In all honesty, this play was written now because I finally had the language through which to dramatize the questions that sat with me for so long. In 2023 I started taking my creative writing seriously, attending workshops, applying for development schemes, and reading more widely. Piece by piece I had found the metaphors, devices, and structures necessary to make this ambitious play work. Baldwin gave me the fire metaphor to continually return to. A poetry workshop with Malika Booker inspired me to frame the play around ‘articles of evidence’ being displayed in a trial. Reading Arinze Kene’s Misty made me interested in using archival audio to create other characters. Competition deadlines gave me the motivation to complete the piece in good time. This is all a way of saying, whilst the play is certainly responding to the identity politics of today it really only exists right now because I only recently became a good enough writer for it to exist. My biggest fear is that it isn’t relevant or timely enough, but I’ll leave that for audiences and readers to decide.

Which playwrights are you influenced by and in what way?

This is a very hard question because most of my influences aren’t playwrights at all. I’m inspired by the writings of James Baldwin, but I’m mostly interested in the poetic and powerful nature of his novels and essays, not his plays. Equally, I adore Kwame Kwei-Armah but have been more inspired by his creative direction over the Young Vic and have read very few of his plays. If I had to pick three playwrights who have influenced me recently, it would be David Hare, Nick Payne, and Arinze Kene. Hare taught me that plays could be politically and emotionally charged. Skylight especially was the perfect image of a complex domestic relationship where I became just as interested in the romance as I did the ideological struggle between these two characters. Payne’s work – particularly Constellation – has challenged my understanding of what a play could formally be. It was the first piece that wasn’t a fringe one-person show which still found a way to challenge and surprise me as a reader. Lastly, Kene’s Misty has influenced me in more ways than I could possibly write. It’s a text that is happy to provide more questions than answers. It’s a text that embraces poetry and hip-hop as valid forms of storytelling. And it’s a text that embraces the absurd in order to make a political statement. I could only dream of The Fire This Time being half as effective as Misty was to me.

Whilst they aren’t playwrights, there are a few writers who may have had an even stronger influence on me than those already named. First and foremost is Kendrick Lamar whose albums Good Kid, Mad CITY, To Pimp A Butterfly, and Mr Morale and the Big Steppers were of biblical significance to the creation of The Fire This Time. Lamar’s ability to tell layered stories, often expanding on multiple metaphors across multiple tracks in order to say something greater than the sum of its parts is unparalleled. In the same vein, this play would not exist without actor, writer, and MC Riz Ahmed. His work on The Long Goodbye proved to me the power of spoken word poetry in succinctly expressing the emotional truths of marginalised groups in the UK. His specific attempts to produce extended metaphors which simplify complex historical politics by likening them to domestic relationships has shaped my creative practice beyond the writings in The Fire This Time. Equally, I continued to listen to and take inspiration from the rapper Noname. Not just because her flow and her lyricism are endlessly engaging and layered, but because of her uncompromising socialist politics which I hope have bled into my writings.

Whilst my list of influences are endless, the last and most significant influence of mine has genuinely been agent Peggy Ramsay. Whenever I’m stuck on a script. Whenever I feel I can’t write anymore. Or think that my writing might just be god awful, I read through my copy of Peggy to her Playwrights which is a collection of correspondences between Peggy Ramsay and a host of Britain’s greatest writers. Her words, which are often witty, inspiring, and insightful, have never failed to pick me up when I’ve needed it most.

What do you want to achieve as a writer?

First and foremost, I want to succeed and live as a writer and educator. I’m currently completing a PhD at the University of Sheffield because I want to be an essayist and an academic as much as I want to be a playwright. I think novels, poetry, and non-fiction have just as much of an influence as plays. Indeed, I think some of the greatest writers have often paired several forms of art to produce the most amount of social and political impact. That’s certainly the kind of writer I want to be. One who’s focused on producing the most impactful work. If that means I only write one play every five years – so be it. If that means I spend more time organising meetings and teaching in classrooms, then I’ll embrace it. Functionally, I just hope that my engagement with words and community can actually influence the world around me. As a playwright that means making work which is engaging enough that people want to see it (maybe even more than one), impactful enough that people think about the play and what it says about the world years after they’ve engaged with it, and creatively ambitious enough that younger writers are inspired to make work more daring than my own. I don’t know if I will achieve all of the above. Even doing half of that would make me proud of what I’ve produced. All I can do now is keep writing and try to make this dream a reality.


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