JC Niala

What are the themes of your play
Gender violence, post-colonial issues of land, development & social class.

Why did you write it and why now?
In writing Unsettled I was interested in how communities navigate social change.  Although it is set in a rapidly growing town in post-colonial Kenya, the issues the play addresses of who has access to resources (in this case land), gender violence, race and social class are pertinent in many places in the world.  I wanted to explore the complexities and nuances in communities where people of different cultural backgrounds are making critical decisions against the backdrop of historical injustice.  I am intrigued by the situations where there is not a clear cut ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  I also wanted to examine the ways in which society can be complicit.  Times when people are eyes wide shut to what is going on in order to maintain a delicate fabric of existence, particularly when they are feeling under threat.  Under these circumstances there is sometimes no obvious ‘win’ in a moral dilemma.  I wanted my characters to wrestle with the choices that they make.  Choices that will not only impact their own lives, but also the lives around them.  What does it feel like to sit with the weight of your choice, not in isolation, but in full view of your community?  Finally, I had a concern with the thorny question of is it better to potentially change many lives at the expense of one?  Democracy which encompasses the utilitarian principle of the majority, is something that is regularly sold to African countries as a basis of salvation from current political maladies.  However, in the day to day existence of individual lives, what does it feel like to sacrifice that one for the many?  Is it clearly and easily recognisable as the right and good thing to do?

We are once again as a world collectively re-examining the legacies of colonialism and slavery.  What it has meant for a world to be ‘developed’ where there are lives that matter less than others. Internationally, there is more awareness of the land struggles in South Africa and Zimbabwe but this is also the case in Kenya.  There is a growing understanding of the strikingly similar patterns of issues around the world that are as a direct result of colonialism. Using a specific example, Unsettled

speaks to a wider challenge, whilst also offering a sliver of hope that there is the possibility of a different outcome – even while the process leaves us unsettled.

Which playwrights are you influenced by and why?
Suzan Lori-Parks for her incredible beats.  Whenever I have watched a play of hers, the entire audience never fails to gasp at exactly the same time.  I also love her use of music.  Roy Williams for his complex characters.  He reaches a wide audience because of the way he works with humanity.  In his radio plays, he lets the listener into worlds of people that they might have otherwise judged harshly and instead opens up routes to empathise with them.  Sara Shaarawi for her sharp social commentary.  She does not shy away from talking about the issues we claim to acknowledge but routinely avoid.

What do you want to achieve as a playwright?
Silence and conversation.  That moment in the theatre when you can feel the audience absorbing what they have just seen, when they are silent because they have not yet found the words to describe how the play made them feel.  Then finding them, I hope for lots of chatter in the bar afterwards and if it’s on the radio that they would want to listen again.


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