Arcola Theatre presents The Book of Grace

Words: Sophia A Jackson
Published: Monday 13 May 2024, 7:00am

Book of Grace by Suzan-Lori Parks Arcola Theatre
Book of Grace by Suzan-Lori Parks
Arcola Theatre

A fierce family drama set against the backdrop of the Mexico-United States border by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks | Directed by Femi Elufowoju jr
Arcola Theatre, 16 May – 8 June 2024

“Nothing short of spectacular” ««««« Guardian (on The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives at Arcola Theatre, directed by Femi Elufowoju jr)

When an abusive husband is awarded a medal for his service patrolling the Texas-Mexico border, it brings to the fore the family conflict between him, his estranged son and his hopeful wife, Grace. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Tony nominee Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog), The Book of Grace paints a visceral family portrait, reflecting on society’s hostility towards immigrants with timely new resonance as the world watches its own borders, with another Trump election on the horizon and the UK government continuing to push their ‘stop the boats’ campaign.

The UK premiere will be directed by award-winning and Olivier nominated director Femi Elufowoju jr OBE and stars Ellena Vincent (Sylvia, Hamilton, Coronation Street), Associate Artist of the RSC Peter de Jersey, and Daniel Francis-Swaby (Barbershop Chronicles).

Grace, a hopeful woman desperately seeking positivity in the world, keeps a book of everything good she witnesses, and lives with her abusive husband Vet, a patrol officer on the Texas-Mexico border. When Vet is awarded a medal for his services in catching smugglers trafficking marijuana at the border, Grace invites his estranged son Buddy to join them at the ceremony that is to be celebrated by the whole town. But Buddy arrives armed with resentment, an ultimatum and (several) hand grenades. Can Grace heal the rift, and contain the threat?

Director Femi Elufowoju jr said, “Eleven years after observing Suzan-Lori Parks and director George C Wolfe in rehearsals with Topdog/ Underdog at the Royal Court, it gives me much pleasure directing the UK premiere of its companion piece The Book of Grace. It is a fascinating character study of a deeply troubled family led by a brutal husband to a wife whose only goal in the world is to see the good in everything. I look forward to opening the can of worms the story’s universal themes entreats us to, and the extreme solutions we consider coming to terms with them.”

Femi Elufowoju jr OBE is the founding artistic director of tiata fahodzi. His latest venture, the Elufowoju jr Ensemble, conceived the stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Also for Arcola Theatre, Elufowoju jr has directed Hoard by Bim Adewunmi and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie as a co-production with Watford Palace Theatre. He made his opera directing debut with Verdi’s Rigoletto for Opera North and directed and wrote a new libretto Der anonyme Liebhaber (based on the life of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges) for Konzert und Theater St Gallen. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2023 Birthday Honours for services to drama.

Arcola Theatre produces daring, high-quality theatre in the heart of East London and beyond. They commission and premiere exciting, original works alongside rare gems of world drama and bold new productions of classics. Their socially engaged, international programme champions diversity, challenges the status quo, and attracts thousands of people to their building each year. Their ticket prices are some of the most affordable in London. Arcola has won awards including the UK Theatre Award for Promotion of Diversity, The Stage Award for Sustainability and the Peter Brook Empty Space Award.

Company information
Director Femi Elufowoju jr
Writer Suzan-Lori Parks
Set & costume designer Will Fricker & Rae Smith
Lighting designer David Howe
Composer/Sound designer Simon McCorry
Production manager Casimira Hayward-Peel

Grace Ellena Vincent
Vet Peter de Jersey
Buddy Daniel Francis-Swaby

Suzan-Lori Parks is a multi-award-winning American writer/musician and the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Topdog/Underdog which recently enjoyed its twentieth anniversary Broadway revival. The production won the 2023 Tony Award, (Best Revival Of A Play). Last season she had new works which received world premieres, notably, at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, at Joe’s Pub in New York City, as well as Plays for the Plague Year (winner of The Drama Desk Award for Best Music in a Play). As a college student, Parks studied creative writing with James Baldwin, who encouraged her to begin writing for the theatre. Sally and Tom is currently receiving its New York premiere at the Public Theatre in NYC.

Ellena Vincent
Theatre credits include: Sylvia (The Old Vic); Hamilton (West End); Aladdin (Lyric Hammersmith); 20th Century Boy (UK tour); Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax (The Old Vic); One Love (Birmingham Rep); The Book of Mormon (West End); Jane Eyre (National Theatre); Little Shop of Horrors (Royal Exchange Manchester); Avenue Q (UK tour/South Korea).

TV credits include: Coronation Street, EastEnders, Doctors.

Daniel Francis-Swaby
Theatre credits include: Little Women (HOME, Manchester); Going For Gold (Chelsea Theatre); Kanye The First (Hightide); Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange); On Fleek (Royal Court); Les Blancs (National Theatre); Milk Milk Lemonade (Ovalhouse); Der Rosenkavalier (Glyndebourne); The History Boys (Mercury Theatre, Colchester); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Custom/Practice); White Meat, Dark Meat, Breast or Thigh? (Off Cut Festival); Three Little Pigs and Other Twisted Tails (Tall Tales Theatre Company), and DNA (Hull Truck/UK Tour).

Film and TV credits include: Rumplestiltskin, Alex Rider, Small Axe, 4Stories: Tell Me, The Overcoat, Jus Soli, Waking Up, Disenchanted, The Days Inbetween, Loved One and Exposed

Peter De Jersey
Peter is an Associate Artist for the RSC.
Theatre credits include: The Score (Theatre Royal Bath), The Threepenny Opera (National Theatre), Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse), Sixty-Six Books (The Bush Theatre), Vernon God Little (Young Vic), House of Games (Almeida), Wuthering Heights (No1 Tour), The Illusion (Royal Exchange), Someone To Watch Over Me (Theatre Clwyd), War and Peace (National Theatre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Regents Park Open Air Theatre),  Richard III (Regents Park Open Air Theatre), Macbeth (US Tour), Romeo and Juliet (US Tour), Hamlet (Cheek By Jowl), Macbeth (Odyssey), Trolius & Cressida (National Theatre), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (Stephen Byrd)  Darker Face of Earth (National Theatre)

RSC credits include: The Tempest, Cymbeline, Imperium: Parts 1 and 2, Imperium Plays, Anthony & Cleopatra, Merry Wives of Windsor, The Odyssey, As You Like It, Richard II, Troilus & Cressida, King Lear, A New Way To Please You, Last Days of Don Juan, Sejanus, Believe What You Will, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Television and film credits include: Sandman, Midsomer Murders XXII, The Underground Rail Road, Wheel of Time, Warrior Nun, Line of Duty, Catastrophe, Doctor Foster, Atlantis, Exposed, The Smoke, Doctor Who, The Bible, Broadchurch, Lightfields, The Hollow Crown: Richard II, Silk, The Choir, The Bill, Rough Justice, Urban Gothic – Cry Wolf, Trial & Retribution IV, Doctors, Holby City, Walking The Dead, Dalziel & Pascoe, This Time With Alan Partridge, Sugar Rush II, The Bank Job, Out of Depth, Hamlet, Heads of State

Running Time: 120 mins (inc interval) | Suitable for ages 15+