Carrot of Stick by Tolula Dada

I am a Nigerian born, London based playwright, journalist and TV freelancer. After being selected for the 2010 BBC Production Talent Pool, I have gained credits on such programmes as The Culture Show, The Film Show and EastEnders, and built a solid reputation as a freelance script reader for companies including Kudos, Mammoth Screen and BBC Wales Drama. With over seven year’s journalistic experience and two Travel Press Award nominations to my name, I was a relative late-comer to playwriting, when I joined Hampstead Theatre’s Heat & Light Company Writers Scheme in 2011. I have since had work showcased at Hampstead Theatre and the Off Cut Festival. In 2012, I was chosen as one of the MGEITF’s Ones to Watch. Carrot or Stick? is my first full-length play.

Why did you Carrot or Stick and what inspired you?

I was initially inspired by a passage featured in Ulrika Johnson’s autobiography, Honest, where she described being raped by a colleague early in her career. Despite this incident reportedly being something of an open secret within the TV industry, the alleged attacker went on to have a successful career for many  years after. This really made me question how could something like this happen in modern Britain, and what factors prevented the survivor from wanting to report it?

Added to this were my own experiences within the TV industry: working in high-pressured environments, with “highly strung creatives”, badly behaved talent, where bullying and intimidation of staff and co-workers was an all too common occurrence, and all seeming to go unpunished. Some instances were rumours or stories that I’d only heard about (hot-tempered producers, pervy presenters) others were very specific things that I’d seen and experienced first hand.

This was the fertile ground upon which I began the first draft of Carrot or Stick? And then Savile-gate happened. Followed by Operation Yew Tree, “fracas”-gate, and more recently Cosby-gate. With each successive scandal, this play felt even more pertinent, not only just that it happened, but the number of people in the industry who had known about some of the worst misdeeds and had continued to work for and with these individuals, people who were just trying to get on with their careers. And not all instances could be resigned to the murky past where certain injustices were accepted. I wanted to write something to show how even right here in the present day, powerful people can do terrible things, and never get their comeuppance. And those who do dare to speak out against such injustice, can be punished for it.

I also wanted to examine female relationships, workplace loyalties and “victimhood”, or rather, the loss of identity a young woman suffers once she is identified as a rape victim. How far would you, I or any of us go to preserve our self image? How far would you stick your own neck out for a friend? Sure, most of us consider ourselves to be good people who tend to do ‘the right thing’ most of the time, but at the end of the day, we all need to pay the bills…

Where would you like your play to be performed?

The Bush Theatre and The National Theatre.

What do you want audiences to take from the play?

I’d want them to re-examine their views on sexual consent, no longer deeming the “she was asking for it” argument valid. I think our culture really needs to stop telling women to cover up or be more cautious and start telling men not to rape, and really be honest about what is and isn’t consent.

And maybe leave the play feeling just a little bit more likely to back up a friend or colleague if they saw them being mistreated at work. We’re all pretty good at putting the world to rights over pints, but rather timid about talking to people who could actually make a difference.

Which playwright/writer do you admire and why?

Lucy Prebble & Lucy Kirkwood – they’ve created some of my favourite plays of all time (Enron & Chimerica) that are both epic in scale and ambition but utterly theatrical, redefining my preconceptions of what can be achieved on the stage.

Shonda Rhimes – she paints the world as she’d like to see it, that helps make it a little bit easier for those living that reality to be more than just an anomaly. She also puts complicated and compelling female characters centre stage, both visible and valid.

What do you want to achieve as a playwright?

I want to make audiences laugh, cringe and think about why the status quo is thus, and maybe leave the theatre wanting to do things a little differently.

I’m also passionate about creating meaty female characters who prove that female stories are worth telling, and that great stories don’t only happen to white men, with everyone else (women & people of colour) tacked on to nag and deliver the one liners.