Oladipo Agboluaje – interview
New Nigerians, Arcola Theatre
Afridiziak Theatre News caught up with Hackney-born writer Oladipo Agboluaje (winner of the Alfred Fagon award for Iya Ile/The First Wife) on his New Nigerians – a political satire, setting the scene for a revolution in 21st century Nigeria. The production opens on February 14 at the Arcola Theatre and stars Tunde Euba, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Patrice Naiambana.
I love writing about politics and wanted to write something current that would resonate with a British and a Nigerian audience
Tell us about your new play, New Nigerians?
New Nigerians (see listing) is a political satire about contemporary politics in modern day Nigeria and focuses on a man and the question of whether he can compromise his integrity in the face of political revolution. The play also resonates with British politics, in fact with international politics and the current state of the world.
What inspired you to write this play?
I love writing about politics and wanted to write something current that would resonate with a British and a Nigerian audience. It occurred to me that we could use the same language that is used in American politics across the world now. Mehmet Ergen, (artistic director, Arcola) contacted me as he was planning a season of plays and events that centred around the theme of revolution at the Arcola theatre and he wanted me to be a part of it.
How long did it take to write your new play, New Nigerians?
It doesn’t take long to write a play once you start, this play was one of my quickest. It only took me a year year, normally it takes me about 18 months to complete the writing. When it comes to writing sometimes you create the characters, but there is no scene, and sometimes you have the story but no characters. You have to constantly work at it and improve it and watch it grow.
A play is almost like a child?
Yes, that is a good analogy, a play is like a child, one that you must discipline, give your constant attention to and watch it grow. And you are always working to get it better and better.
How did you feel when you won the Alfred Fagon award for your play Iya Ile/The First Wife?
I was incredibly happy and humbled. I knew Alfred and had read his work, so this recognition was an affirmation of my work and showed me that yes I could do it and I was doing it. By ‘it’ I mean I was putting African theatre into the mainstream, that was the crowning joy. To see that the audience and my peers understood my characters and their stories, not just African audiences but everyone could see the merits of my work. I was normalising the experience of being African. Femi Elufowoju jr, whom I worked with on my play The Estate, was the reason that Iya Ile (see listing) came about, he encouraged me to continue telling the story that started in the first play, Iya Ile is a sequel. Femi urged me to continue bringing African theatre to the public I am so grateful to him for that. The Estate, was one of my very first plays and will always stand out to me as the whole process showed me that being a playwright was now going to be my profession. Winning the Alfred Fagon award for Iya Ile was a great confirmation from my peers that I was doing well in this profession.
Who are your inspirations?
I just love writing. A word can inspire me, an emotion. At times, I can be watching something or reading something and I am so taken over that I wish I had written it, which in turn inspires me to then write something. So many things inspire me. When I am writing I am always writing for a black audience I want my work to be accepted and believed by the people who come from the background that I do as they will be the first to reject or accept it. If I write something that is not authentic trust me that a Nigerian will be the first and loudest to confront it even whilst they are sitting in the audience. I want my characters and plays to be a true reflection of modern day Africa.
So many things inspire me. When I am writing I am always writing for a black audience I want my work to be accepted and believed by the people who come from the background that I do as they will be the first to reject or accept it.
Do you have any favourite playwrights?
I have no favourites per say, but as I did my schooling in Nigeria, Nigerian writers heavily influenced me, as we studied a lot of them alongside Shakespeare, and of my favourite authors is Wole Soyinka (read our interview), we studied him a lot. I have also been inspired by Tony Kushner’s play ‘Angels in America’, and playwright August Wilson, his work touches me deeply. Wilson talked about when he wrote we was writing for an African-American audience as an African-American man, other white authors write plays with a European sensibility, a European voice. When he wrote a play, he was coming from an African-American background so he had an African sensibility and an African voice. I feel very much the same when I am writing. That is why there is so much African history and mythology in his work. It is not so much a celebration of the African experience, but is just the telling of stories. It is only because we are living in a minority status in the UK or US that we see it as different or a celebration. If we were in Africa it would just be a story, which is how I look at things when I write.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
I love travelling, there are so many places I still wish to go, I am one of those people who stares up at planes and wonders where they are heading to or returning from. I also love watching movies and books, I am currently reading Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle, and also Welcome to Lagos, by Chibundu Onuzo. Both books are great examples of contemporary African fiction.
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
Well I am working on a new play, and those who loved The Estate and Iya Ile may love this third instalment, a possible trilogy is something that I am seriously considering. Things are not set in place but I am working on ideas.