Playwright Somebody Jones and director Khadifa Wong join forces to create a presentation of two enchanting theatre pieces to premiere in-person and online at next month’s Footprints Festival at the Jermyn Street Theatre from June 1st-10th. With a set designed by Jessie Mckenzie, the entire production team is comprised of women of colour. ALT caught up with Jones just before the play is about to open at the Footprints festival.
The two plays are as follows:
HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM (Solo performance strand)
Jamie wants to start swimming lessons. Which is not unusual, except for the fact that she just turned 30. Attempting to find closure after her brother’s disappearance, she decides it’s time to face her fear. This coming-of-adulthood story explores Black people’s relationship to water, while finally answering the question: Are there really sharks in the deep end of the pool?
Cast: Merryl Ansah (JAMIE)
I’M YOUR ROPE (Work-in-Progress in the Showcases Push and Pull performance strand)
Simeon and Lilah’s relationship is like a game of tug of war. But sometimes, one of them is the rope. In a forest that’s a little more magical than the ones in our world, Simeon and Lilah finally decide what they’re going to be: friends, BEST friends, lovers, or something a little more complicated.
Cast: Martina Laird (LILAH), Owen Chaponda (SIMEON)
Quickly tell me why you do what you do?
• I write plays that celebrate Black culture because as a Black playwright, it’s important to me. It’s also just a lot of fun to work with other Black creatives. I also hope to put more Black characters at the forefront of genres like horror, magical realism, and fantasy.
How do you think theatre will change due to the pandemic?
• I hope that theatre will actually become a lot more inclusive. That doors that were once closed are now smashed, or at least open. I also love the trend of filming live shows. I really hope that that specifically, along with captioning remains.
Do you think with everyone talking about race at the moment, we will see a more nuanced representative view of black women?
• I hope! That’s what we’ve done with HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM. It’s of course about Black people and specifically about our relationship to water, but it’s got a lot of humour, joy, and magic.
What has inspired the upcoming two stories at Jermyn Street?
• That’s a good question! HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM came from an idea that I played with about five-ish years ago. Originally, it was a 10-minute piece with two characters, but after Jermyn Street offered my fellow JST Creative Associate and director, Khadifa, and I an opportunity to put on a small-scale production, I decided to turn it into a solo show.
• And I wish I could remember the inspiration for I’M YOUR ROPE! All I remember is that the characters just sort of wrote themselves. It was as if the story had always been inside of me. So that effortlessness plus the subject matter really pushed me to submit it to Jermyn Street. And I just loved the idea of Black people being a part of a fantasy piece. I think there’s a real push and need for it right now.
Tell us about what kind of stories excite you personally?
• I love stories where I’m immersed into a specific world. I used to work in the escape room industry, so that element is really important to me. If you can make me forget that I’m in a theatre, you’ve sold me!
Who are the characters in HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM and how do they resonate with you?
• I once had a theatre professor tell me that every character you write is a little piece of you, so I love this question! There’s about 7 different people in the piece that actor Meryl Ansah plays, and I think the ones that most resonate with me are Babalawo and Christina. Christina is Black woman who is not such a fan of the water. And while I do enjoy beaches and such, she talks about dating a white guy. And how he just doesn’t understand her relationship with water, and as someone with a white partner, I totally get that!
In terms of Babalawo, he’s just fun! I really love dynamic characters, and he’s a great example of one. He’s definitely got an agenda, but he also has a big heart.
What makes a good playwright?
• Someone who listens! Listens to people’s conversations, to what’s trending, to what’s not trending, to what people want and don’t want to talk about, to actors, to directors, to dramaturgs, to designers (shout out to ours Jessie McKenzie), to their peers, community, etc.
What has the Pandemic taught you?
• The pandemic has taught me that I just need to create. I actually quit my job during the pandemic, and I am so much happier for it. It was draining me, and I had no <me for what I actually came to London for. Now I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose. And it feels amazing.
HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM 1st June – 7:30pm 4th June – 9:30pm 5th June – 5:30pm 10th June – 7:30pm
I’M YOUR ROPE 2nd June – 7:30pm
Tickets: £12-19 Box Office: 020 7287 2875 jermynstreettheatre.co.uk