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*Migration Histories > Caribbean > Culture and Festivals
* New Black theatre companies 
 
The 1970s and 80s saw an explosion of 'alternative' touring theatre companies, aiming to reach audiences outside the mainstream. Gradually the Arts Council was forced to begin to recognise and fund them. Among them were new Black theatre companies: Carib, Temba and Black Theatre Co-operative (now Nitro).

Temba - from the Zulu word for hope - was formed in 1972. Its first director, Alton Kumalo, pioneered new Black writing both from Britain and from South Africa, America and the Caribbean, with playwrights including Mustapha Matura, Jimi Rand and Edgar White. Alby James became artistic director in 1984 with the aim of extending the company's audiences, both Black and white. It presented new work, like Trish Cooke's Back Street Mammy about teenage pregnancy and Jamaican pantomime like Barbara Glouden's The Pirate Princess, Black productions of classics like Romeo and Juliet and Ibsen's Ghosts, musicals like Felix Cross's award-winning Glory! and dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah's first play Streetwise (1990). Alby James has gone on to become a leading voice on the grant-awarding Film Council.

Others followed like Black Mime Theatre, Strange Fruit and Talawa Theatre Company which was founded in 1985 by Yvonne Brewster, Mona Hammond, Carmen Monroe and Inigo Espejel.

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Talawa King Lear photographer
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Talawa King Lear, photographer: Graham Brandon. By kind permission of the V & A Theatre Museum.
In Jamaica, we have a saying, "She may be small but look how she's talawa", meaning gutsy, feisty.
Yvonne Brewster, Artistic Director, Talawa Theatre Company.

As its first production Talawa chose The Black Jacobins by Caribbean writer and intellectual C L R James. Its production of King Lear (1994) was recorded for the Theatre Museum's National Video Archive of Performance, with Ben Thomas the first Black actor to play Lear in Britain since Ira Aldridge in 1859. Talawa has gone on to work with the Theatre Museum on *Blackgrounds and Blackstage, a project recording video interviews with elders of Black theatre to ensure this vital history is not forgotten. Find out more about Black and Asian performance at the *Theatre Museum.

Further reading:

The Life of Una Marson 1905-1965 by Delia Jarret-Macaulay (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997)

Ira Aldridge: The Negro Tragedian by Herbert Marshall and Mildred Stock (London: Rockliff, 1958).

Storms of the Heart: an Anthology of Black Arts and Culture ed. Kwesi Owusu (London: Camden Press, 1988).

The Story of Unity Theatre by Colin Chambers (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1989).

Black in the British Frame: the Black Experience in British Film and Television by Stephen Bourne (London: Continuum, 2001).

Black Theatre in Britain ed. A. Ruth Tompsett (London: Harwood Academic, 1998).

'Black Women Playwrights in Britain' by Susan Croft in British and Irish Women Dramatists since 1958 ed. T. Griffiths and M. Llewellyn-Jones (London: Open University Press, 1993).

Black Edwardians: Black People in Britain 1901-1914 by Jeffrey Green. (London: Frank Cass, 1998)

Fringe First: Pioneers of Fringe Theatre on Record by Roland Rees (London: Oberon Books, 1992)

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Creators: Susan Croft

 
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