Interview SheCan Theatre

Talking to Temi Wilkey writer of ‘The High Table’

Wilkey is an actor/writer from North London, she studied English at Cambridge before training with the National Youth Theatre REP company in 2014. Her theatre credits include the National, the RSC and the Manchester Royal Exchange.

A member of the Royal Court’s Young Writers Group in 2017 writing her debut play, The High Table, at the course’s end. The play opens at the Bush part of  Lynette Linton’s debut season,  8 February – 21 March 2020.

Wilkey is also co-founder & co-director the Drag King company, Pecs and has performed in sell-out runs of their shows at venues including Soho Theatre, The Yard & Tate Britain.  She is now writing her first piece for television on the Dancing Ledge Bursary scheme and is mentored by Lucy Prebble. Alt A spoke to Wilkey during rehearsals.

  • What was it like writing your first play?

Very difficult! But incredibly rewarding. I think, at first, it’s quite difficult to figure out exactly what story you’re trying to tell. But once you get to the bottom of that, it can be really thrilling, as you get closer and closer to what you want to say.  And once the play was programmed and actors and more collaborators got involved, it became really exciting to share the story with so many people and then get closer to the prospect of sharing it further and putting it in front of an audience.

  • Tell us about the premises of The High Table?

The High Table is a play that follows the story of Tara, a British-Nigerian woman who’s getting married to her girlfriend Leah. The wedding plans are thrown into disarray when Tara’s parents refuse to come. They don’t feel like their marriage is acceptable, that it is Un-african. High above them, a chorus of ancestors is trying to decide whether or not to bless the wedding and trying to settle the disharmony within the family.

  • How do you relate to the story?

Well, I don’t currently have a fiancé! But I can definitely relate to the disconnect that one can feel when you’re in a queer relationship that your African parents don’t yet entirely accept.

  • Do you think that spaces like the Bush Theatre create a space of inclusivity that we are just beginning to see where all stories can be told?

Definitely! I think the Bush is such an important theatre and has become a bedrock for plays that centre the experiences of Black and Asian people. It’s a really inclusive space and I visited the theatre so many times before I even started to think about writing.
I think theatres like the Bush were probably part of the subconscious encouragement that I needed to write this play. It’s one of the few places that I’ve ever seen a Black-British family drama on stage and I’m sure it helped me to believe that I could write one.

  • What was your inspiration for the play?

It came from love for my queerness and love for my Nigerian heritage and a frustration that both of those parts of myself are often put at odds with one another. And the desire to challenge the idea that same-sex love is Un-African by looking at pre-colonial attitudes to queerness.

  • What stories are important to you?

Stories that centre the black experience, stories that are funny, stories where characters change, and where there is drama, conflict and also hope.

  • Tell us about your creative journey which lead you to where you are today, training, first professional job etc?

I started off in theatre as an actor, and that’s still primarily how I think of myself. I went to University and studied English, then trained as an actor with the National Youth Theatre. I’ve been working in theatre and TV over last five years.  I started writing about two years ago and did the Royal Court Introduction to Playwriting Group at the end of 2017 which led to the first draft of The High Table in March 2018. There was a rehearsed reading of the play in early 2019 and it was eventually programmed at the Bush.

  • What is it like watching the play come to life in rehearsals?

Amazing. It’s amazing to see how actors breathe life into the words you’ve written. Sometimes it feels like the words and the story are brand new. And you’ve forgotten that you’ve written them. It’s really special.

  • Daniel Bailey is the Director what does he bring to the table?

Daniel is incredible. He creates such an open, joyous and creatively rigorous rehearsal room. He brings a lot to The High Table because he’s so invested in the spirituality of the play and the concept of everyone from the African diaspora discovering more about their roots.  He’s really logical and very good at challenging the inconsistencies within my writing! He’s also got an incredible ear for music, which is a really important element of the play (we have a brilliant live drummer, Mohamed, as part of the company) and he is brilliant at working with the actors.

More info about the The High Table and to buy tickets click here.

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