Actors Touring Company (ATC), the UK’s leading theatre producer of international plays, today announces a major Co-Production and National Tour with Belgrade Theatre Coventry, in association with Brixton House of a new stage production of Mojisola’s Adebayo’s play Family Tree.
Adebayo’s powerful and poetic drama explores race, health, the environment and the incredible legacy of one of the most influential Black women of modern times, Henrietta Lacks. Originally commissioned by ATC and the Young Vic in 2020, an outdoor work-in-progress piece was showcased at the 2021 Greenwich + Docklands International Festival. This new 2023 tour will be the fully-realised stage production.
The Belgrade Theatre Coventry will stage the World Premiere in March 2023 followed by a London premiere at Brixton House in April 2023. The play will then tour until June, visiting major venues across the country including performances in Keswick, Ipswich and Nottingham.
Family Tree is the current winner of the Alfred Fagon Award, the leading Black British Playwrighting prize, for best original stage play. ATC’s Artistic Director Matthew Xia, who will be directing the production says: “Mojisola Adebayo is an exceptional writer and I’m excited that her award-winning play will be seen by audiences far and wide. There’s a beauty in her work that responds so well to the present moment whilst also holding historical malpractice to account. It’s fearless, brutally honest, at turns hilarious, and ultimately transformative.
He adds: “Henrietta’s HeLa cell line forms the basis of the most important medical research and breakthroughs across the last 70 years, from Cancer and HIV to COVID, we owe our lives to her. Denied her place in history, now is the time to bring Henrietta’s epic legacy alive on stage.”
Mojisola Adebayo says of the new co-production: “‘When I met Matthew Xia, Henrietta Lacks came into our minds at exactly the same time. Xia is magic but Lacks is more, she’s immortal and her body has touched every life on the planet – yours, mine… So why have so few people heard of her? Let alone Lucy, Betsey, Anarcha and more… The play paints a family tree of Black women whose cells, blood and waters have birthed, raised and changed the world. Matthew said to me: “I want the audience to leave the theatre looking up”. I went away and wrote a play on a promise. Come see it.”
Pauline Walker, the Creative Producer for the Alfred Fagon Awards adds: “Mojisola Adebayo is a thrilling playwright who infuses her writing with epic ideas, vision and compassion and we’re delighted that Family Tree is now being produced and will go on tour. We look forward to seeing it.”
The Belgrade’s CEO, Laura Elliot and Creative Director, Corey Campbell says: “We’re thrilled to be co-producing Family Tree with Actors Touring Company. Its mission and message are ones we align ourselves with at the Belgrade and we’re honoured to be hosting its world premiere in Coventry next year.”
Brixton House’s Artistic Director Gbolahan Obesisan adds: “Family Tree spotlights the story of Henrietta Lacks, and what we owe to her legacy. Henrietta’s story will surprise many whilst also highlighting the need for medical research to be more transparent especially as a concern for Black communities. Family Tree is an urgent part of our history and a unique opportunity for the Black diaspora to connect and reflex on how our bodies have long been commodified. Brixton House embarks on an exciting partnership with ATC to bring this production to Brixton as the genesis of future partnerships.”
Andrew Smaje, ATC’s Executive Director says: “We’re so excited to be forging new partnerships with venues and communities in Coventry and Brixton. The fresh artistic leadership of the Belgrade and Brixton House opens doors to stories like Henrietta’s and to artists like Mojisola – and our collaboration means that Family Tree can tour to many more communities around the UK.”
Full cast, creative team and tour schedule will be announced in the New Year.
Commissioning Mojisola Adebayo’s play was originally borne out of Actors Touring Company’s (ATC) commitment to commissioning new plays from female writers of colour for the first three years of Matthew Xia’s tenure (2019-21). This was alongside ATC’s mission during the same period to produce UK premieres of contemporary international plays, all of which were exclusively by female writers of colour. The strategy aimed to pro-actively improve and elevate the representation and diversity of playwriting voices in ATC’s work and in the wider sector.
Family Tree was jointly commissioned by ATC and Young Vic Theatre. The development production in 2021 was produced by ATC and Greenwich & Docklands International Festival, supported by the Young Vic.