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Theatre Interview: 10 Qs With New Nigerian Writer Oladipo Agboluaje

Hackney-born writer Oladipo Agboluaje (winner of the Alfred Fagon award for Iya Ile/The First Wife)  teamed up with  director Rosamunde Hutt (Love, Bombs and Apples)  for the hilarious recent satire New Nigerians, a play about the state of populism in politics which was recently on stage at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney. AltA caught up with Oladipo before seeing the play.  Review: It was a full house at the Saturday afternoon matinee. A small powerful cast of three (Patrice Naiambana, Gbemisola Ikumelo and Tunde Euba) brought a really simple colourful set to life. A very well written and engaging piece, with just the right amount of humour. Definitely worth another run at the Arcola.

Q: What was the inspiration for the play New Nigerian?

Well the artistic director of The Arcola Theatre asked me to write a play.  He thought it might be great to have play that showed how the revolution influenced other societies other than Russia. He knows me as a writer and I already had the idea of the New Nigerian floating in my head.

Q: What is the premise of the play?

It is about whether a social candidate can gather a enough stream to launch a political campaign in Nigeria and the compromises he has to make and if those compromises are worth it. That is the main drive of the story. The question is can he create new Nigerians and create the Nigeria that we all want?

Q: New Nigerian what does that mean?

It is widely used in Nollywood. Wale Ojo coined the term, which has been around for a while. But when I lived in Nigerian there was  a newspaper called the New Nigerian and that is where I got the idea from.

Q: Which play writers have inspired your journey?

I would not say that I have loads but the ones that I have read who have influenced me greatly are Wole Soyinka. He was one of the plays we read at school. There is also Femi Osofisan, who has more of a Marxist socialist angle to his work and other greats like Arthur Miller, Tommy Cushner and August Wilson.

Q: Why were educated both in the UK and Nigeria?

My parents went back and I went with them. In Nigeria you get an education you make money then if don’t make money, you get more education. So it was not a conscious choice, it just happened that way.

Q: Does politics inspire your creative process?

Fela Kuti is definitely my biggest artistic inspiration.  Sometimes I have to play Fela to write! There are other influences like current affairs, a lot of Nigerian politics resonates with what is going on in America and in the UK. In the New Nigerian these references are easy for a non-Nigerian audience to engage with.  Audiences pick up on this very quickly because they are very obvious illusions to the political situation. Yes current affairs, has some bearing on how I create story and my characters.

Q: In the last 10 years telecommunications/social media in Africa and Nigeria have opened up the global conversation. How do you think this is expressed through the arts when defining or re-defining the Nigerian identity?

We are actually living in the moment- like the Nigerian scientist on the plane recently, immediately that went viral. In the last 15 years technology has allowed Africa a much bigger voice and because of that we can put our points across and engage in international debates. Which in the past would not have been possible.

This is not being done by government, but by groups and organisation like yours. We are taking back the narrative and self-defining, not allowing other people to define us. The whole world is now privy to the conversations that once upon a time would be behind closed doors.

Right now the popularity of Nigerian music is growing, somewhere in Sweden or America young people are dancing to some new African dance craze. The Nollywood industry has become what it has become as Nigerians are creating content for Nigerians. Aspects of self-definition is only going to grow more and more, unless someone switches off the internet.

Q: How is the recent recession in Nigeria going to have a bearing on the arts?

A: Not that much really.  Artists are doing it themselves and not looking for support in order to move forward. Not that they do not ask for help or support.

Q: What are you working on now?

I am working on a number of scripts for film, TV and theatre. I also teach Postcolonial Theatre at Goldsmiths.

Q: What would be you advice to anyone interested in writing.

Keep writing, develop your craft and get to know people who are where you want to be.

(c) March 2017 Interview AltA