Shakespeare – for the many not the few

Leslie Manasseh meets two Brixton-based women behind a remarkable new theatre production

 

Adjoa Andoh (left) and Dona Croll. Picture: Sarah Lam
Adjoa Andoh (left) and Dona Croll
Picture: Sarah Lam

Adjoa Andoh and Dona Croll are two extraordinary Brixton-based women who are bringing a unique and ground-breaking production of Richard II to the Globe Theatre on the Southbank.

I met them to talk about the first all women of colour production of a Shakespeare play on a major UK stage.

Adjoa and Dona are equally at home in the theatre and on the streets of Brixton, and they are bursting with energy and  passion – even after a long day of rehearsals,

That’s not surprising because this is an exciting project and they have much to say. As does the play itself. Written in 1595 but with the timeless insight and genius of its creator, the story of Richard II and this unique production shine a light on some of the key issues we face today. 

Adjoa Andoh Picture: Ingrid Pollard
Adjoa Andoh
Picture: Ingrid Pollard

While wrestling with Brexit, questions of national identity and Britain’s place in the world, we are invited to turn to our greatest playwright to reflect on “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

Richard II was the first king to be deposed by the Commons and his reign was marked by a series of crises – economic, social, political and constitutional.

As his power slipped away, bad governance, division and civil unrest, created a chaotic situation in the 14th century and beyond. Adjoa and Dona can see clear parallels with the chaos and uncertainty of Brexit. 

For both women the production also touches on the impact and legacy of the British empire – a once all-powerful and seemingly indestructible force in the world – whose time has now passed.

Richard II in rehearsal Picture: Ingrid Pollard
Richard II in rehearsal
Picture: Ingrid Pollard

The production gives a voice to the children of empire – in particular women of colour – who helped build Britain out of post-war ruins, but all too often remain overlooked and marginalised. It celebrates their contribution and shared heritage.

Of course when the play was first performed it would have had an all-male cast, as women were not allowed to be actors. Over 400 years later, that imbalance is finally being redressed.

Both Adjoa and Dona are conscious that, in so many ways, this production is a first. They feel the pressure to succeed. But they are also enjoying a sense of liberation and relaxation because the production team and cast have the kind of shared history which makes working together easier. 

People who live in Brixton may not be familiar with Richard II or the Globe Theatre.

I asked Adjoa why they should make the trip to the Southbank to see the play. In a typically fiery fashion she said: “Shakespeare is not an exclusive artistic endeavour that is only there for people who’ve had a tip-top education. 

“Shakespeare put all his art on the rhythms of a heartbeat because he’s interested in human beings and everybody has a heart beat.

“And a heart beat has no colour, no gender, no sexuality, no religion or income. We all have a heart beat. We want to invite people who don’t normally come to the Globe because they will enjoy it – it will be moving, entertaining and thought-provoking. They will be enriched by it”.  

Adjoa Andoh is an actor and director who co-directs with Lynette Linton, and plays the lead role. She is also a lay preacher at St Saviour’s and St Paul’s in Herne Hill.

‘Dona Croll, who plays John of Gaunt, is a well established actor, recently seen on our screens playing the older ‘July’ in the much acclaimed BBC adaptation of The Long Song, by Andrea Levy.

Richard II runs from 22 February to 21 April in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT.

Phone 020 7401 9919 or visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

Richard II cast
Picture: Ingrid Pollard

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.