Interview with Esohe Uwadiae

Developed as part of VAULT Festival New Writers’ Programme 2019, She Is A Place Called Home, a story about two sisters in the run up to their dad’s marriage, is playing at London’s VAULT Festival in March. I spoke with writer Esohe Uwadiae to find out more about her latest play. 

Can you tell me about She Is A Place Called Home?
She Is A Place Called Home follows two British Nigerian sisters as they navigate their Dad’s decision to get another wife (as in, in addition to their Mum), and what this means for their faith, family and future. It begins with the sisters preparing a traditional Nigerian dance for the wedding and builds from there, exploring themes such as the experience of mental illness by black women, the pressure to keep up appearances and how far we’re willing to go for those we love.

The relationship between the sisters is very much at the heart of the show, with a focus on how they relate to one another, but also to the crisis unfolding within their family.

What prompted you to write the play?
This play was developed on the VAULT Festival New Writers Programme 2019. As part of the programme, you have to write the first draft of a play, and we had just over 8 weeks to do it. So that was a pretty good incentive to get something done. I was especially motivated because I hadn’t yet written a full length play, so the opportunity to do it over the course of a structured programme was really valuable.

In terms of the actual story, the play was initially about two sisters preparing a dance routine for their older sister’s traditional Nigerian wedding. But as I began writing and reflecting on Nigerian culture, as well as the experience of being someone of dual nationalities, more and more themes began to emerge, including the main storyline. From there, the characters became more real and the play basically wrote itself. On a personal level, I wanted to write a story that felt more reflective of my experience of being British Nigerian, but also a black woman.

Having also studied Law, writing this prompted me to reflect on something I’d studied called legal accommodation. This is where British legislation, such as laws around marriage, might recognise as legal and valid the traditions of other cultures, in certain situations. It made me question which cultures have the privilege of having their traditions recognised, but to also wonder about families, like the one in the play, where in the eyes of British law a marriage has not taken place, but in the eyes of their culture a marriage has, thus leaving them caught in the space between these two worlds, without proper recourse. Considering this is a country that is increasingly diverse and which proudly describes itself as multi-cultural, from a legal perspective, should more not be done to empower families, particularly women, in situations like this?

What can audiences expect?
We tackle some difficult topics, including the experience of eating disorders, relationship breakdown and clashes between faith and culture. As the show revolves around the two sisters, it allows us to dig into these subjects in a really honest and deeply vulnerable way.

But we also do our best to celebrate Nigerian culture, family and sisterhood. So there will be jokes, traditional dancing and some poor attempts at pidgin English.

How did you first get into writing?
I’ve always loved reading and growing up I would write a lot of fiction. My first foray into writing for theatre was during my final year of university when someone asked me to perform in a Non-binary Gender Bonanza cabaret-style event they were organising. I went online to look for something to perform, but couldn’t find anything that fit me. So I decided to write something instead. It ended up being a short monologue called ‘The Performance of a Lifetime’ and it follows a person called Uche as they reflect on their experience navigating the concept of womanhood and their sexuality. After this, my sister really encouraged me to consider theatre as another medium and would book shows for us to watch. I ended up falling in love with the form, especially the immediacy of it and the inability of an audience to escape the story that’s unfurling. About 18 months after that first monologue, a friend sent me the application link for the VAULT Festival New Writers Programme and the rest is history.

What inspires your work?
Family is a huge driver, particularly because they are a group of people who we are expected to have an abundance of forgiveness for. So it’s interesting to explore how boundaries work within the family context, the horrible things the members do to one another, and how they navigate relationships post conflicts. Do people say sorry? Or do they simply brush it under the carpet? How far is too far?

Music is another driver. Every song is a story. One line is often all it takes for me to imagine a piece of theatre.

As I mentioned, I studied Law at university, and a huge part of that is criticising the law and pointing out how its flaws affect people by leaving them without adequate recourse. It’s given me so many ideas of scenarios to explore theatrically.

What would you like the play to achieve?
I’d like the play to shed some light on what it’s like to be someone who belongs to multiple cultures and some of the challenges you might experience in navigating that. I also hope it begins to spotlight issues that aren’t normally discussed, for instance the experience of eating disorders by black women.

As the play touches on various forms of non-physical domestic violence, we’ve also partnered with Solace Women’s Aid. They are a London-based charity providing free advice and support to women and children in London to build safe and strong lives. Their work is incredibly necessary, and I hope this play is able to raise awareness of it. During our run, we’ll be collecting monetary donations for them, but also toiletries like sanitary towels and toothpaste.

She Is A Place Called Home runs at the VAULT Festival from 3 to 8 March. 

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