Introducing Nana-Kofi Kufuor - Red Ladder Theatre Company

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Introducing Nana-Kofi Kufuor

English-Ghanaian writer Nana-Kofi Kufuor is the writer behind My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored, which Red Ladder Theatre Company is producing for its world premiere tour. Find out more as we caught up with Kofi ahead of rehearsals of this gripping new play. 

Please describe My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored in your own words.

There’s a continuous debate between black people in this country – how much of ourselves do we actually know? How much of ourselves do we give up to fit in? My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored is about the argument of blackness, and who gets to define it. It’s basically about being black and having to navigate all spaces. On one side black people almost code to fit in. The other side of that is black people that feel like they can be themselves and want to enlighten other black people, free them of that societal burden. This play enters those ideas in an almost frenetic manner. The characters Gillian and Reece represent different viewpoints, but they are two sides of the same coin.

What inspired you to write My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored?

I worked at the PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) and once had a student try to take a knife to stab another student. Once I’d calmed him down, we sat in the canteen and he explained to me he wasn’t going to go quietly. The police were outside and they took him. I saw him a few weeks later, and he asked why I didn’t help him. That rush of guilt changed to anger and then quickly to sympathy as he saw me as his protector. But I knew I couldn’t do anything.

Both characters represent me in a way – Gillian represents the younger version of me that was more hesitant to engage in politics or to see the world for what it really is. Reece represents aspects of me now, where I have read up on my history and cultures and I am more vocal and engage in black activism.

If you could use three words to describe Gillian and Reece what would they be?

To describe Gillian I would say guarded, aware and tired. Reece is self-assured, witty and cocky. By the end of the piece you could argue the words would be switched. Gillian helps Reece understand a lot and vice-versa, but Gillian already knows these things; she has learnt the ability to code-switch and fade into the background to fit in. They both go on a journey, a journey a lot of people of colour, or people from different places, go on – a realisation that where you are now isn’t necessarily where you come from.

How important to you was it to have authenticity in these characters?

Every play strives to be authentic and this one is no different – the language is massively important for this piece. Reece cannot sensor himself. It wouldn’t work, you’d feel he is holding back. He would be holding back for the some of the audience who may be offended by some of the language. It would negate the whole point of the play, the whole point of his character, his arc, who he is and what he is trying to explain to Gillian. Working with Box of Tricks helped when I was developing the play; they let me be free. They never once said this may offend or can you tone it down. That helped me keep some raw anger and energy.

I’m really excited about working with Red Ladder. Dermot Daly (director) has a good eye and is really open to working with me and my ideas. Everyone has been so helpful and Rod Dixon (Red Ladder AD) is always telling me to breathe and relax and is a very calming presence and influence on my writing

The play is very multi-layered and richly textured. How was it to write, did the themes develop naturally as you worked on it?

The original draft was very different. It went from ten characters to eight to five to four – and then two. It adds more tension and hammers home the fact they are on this journey together. The crux of this story is how two people react to the same situation.

What are your cultural influences and main inspirations on your creative work?

My mother and big sister have shaped my outlook on life. My mother worked two jobs when I was a kid, and she was always happy, always laughing and joking. She loved tv shows like Keeping Up Appearances and Only Fools and Horses and Last of The Sumer Wine. Now I’m older and look back, I feel like this was her way of acclimatising to a completely different culture from her own as Ghanaians. My big sister Mammy also taught me I would say my outlook, and I also think I get my temperament from her.

My culture influences have to come from my family in general; it was almost like being in two worlds growing up. We had Ghana in the house – the food, the language, the rules, and then outside I had Stockport, which has less rules. I would say my writing influences if honest do not come from theatre but from films, especially what would be considered world cinema. I owe my writing style to my favourite teacher Julia Wilde from Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form college who introduced me to films like City Of God, La Haine, London To Brighton, Once We Warriors. The films she showed me were about people from those countries, but their stories are rarely told as people of colour or different religious backgrounds or working-class people. It showed me my voice was important and I could write the stories of people I know or have interacted with or things I’d seen, and people would care

As an exciting new voice in theatre, how have you found your experiences of the industry so far?

An exciting new voice? Hahahahaha, no pressure! I originally had no intention of writing theatre until I met Suzanne Bell at the Royal Exchange Theatre, who insisted theatre was for everyone. She kept hammering home the idea that all voices needed to be heard.  Eventually I joined a writer’s group she had in the summer of 2018, and the rest is history. Oldham Coliseum have taken me under their wing and given me advice and space to write and help. I’m always learning but I haven’t really changed my style that much.

Is there an intention you hope for the production of My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored?

If I say what I hope people will take-away from this, I would be doing a disservice to the play. There are so many themes and everyone will take away something different. The only thing that I ask is that no one watch it and say it was okay, because then it hasn’t done its job. I would much rather someone say “bloody hell, Black Lives Matter again, I saw it on Britain’s Got Talent too”. That shows you had a reaction and a connection. I want people to feel something when watching this, positive or negative – otherwise it hasn’t done its job. I just hope people come with an open mind. I want them to come up to me after and say I didn’t like this, or I loved this. I’m not precious about my work in the sense I want to invoke a reaction, otherwise why write?