Kwame Kwei-Armah's contribution to trio of plays at Tricycle

PUBLISHED: 16:33 05 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:31 07 September 2010

As the Tricycle theatre launches a season of state of the nation plays by black writers, Bridget Galton talks to one of the writers – former Casualty star Kwame Kwei-Armah THE Tricycle s Not Black And White season is three writers look at life in cul

As the Tricycle theatre launches a season of state of the nation plays by black writers, Bridget Galton talks to one of the writers - former Casualty star Kwame Kwei-Armah

THE Tricycle's Not Black And White season is three writers' look at life in culturally diverse 21st century London.

Roy Williams set his play in prison (see above), Kwame Kwei-Armah's Seize The Day explores the election campaign of a would-be black London mayor, and Bola Agbaje's Detaining Justice the British immigration system.

As artistic director Nick Kent says: "Across London, black and Asian children outnumber white British children by about six to four, I thought it important to look at the society in which we live from the perspective of black writers."

Kwei-Armah, whose National Theatre play Statement Of Regret also examined the black political class, says: "When Obama was elected, the whole country asked, 'When are we going to have a black person in power in Britain?' But the US is ahead of us in having the necessary wiring of black state governors, senators and judges so that a black president was a leap, but not a quantum leap.

"We don't have that hard-wiring, our system is different there are still very few black senior politicians."

Kwei-Armah, who lives in Muswell Hill, believes we'll see a black London mayor before a Prime Minister.

"In 2008, 40 per cent of the London population claimed to belong to an ethnic minority and to be so disenfranchised as to not register that 40 per cent would be awful.

"For our democracy to make sense, it must be highly possible for someone of colour to be elected within the next two terms.

"Boris Johnson proved you can walk off the street with very little prior experience of this scale of management and become Mayor of London. I thought it would be fun to explore the possibility of a black Mayor and importantly, what kind of black person would be electable - what would you need to do to sell them to the general public?"

His candidate Jeremy Charles is a well spoken, good looking TV personality with a Mandleson-esque fixer. But things don't run smoothly when he develops a mutually illuminating relationship with an 18-year-old knife wielding thug, who teaches him about life on the streets.

Kwei-Armah asks difficult questions about whether successful black people identify more with being middle class than with being black.

"The play looks at the clash between London's tiny black middle class and the working and underclass. What are the rules that guide both and are there any similarities?

"It's about who we feel we need to be to succeed in our respective environments and what it does it do to you culturally when you are celebrated for being black but there is a separation between you and your community."

Kwei-Armah says a recent documentary he made following in the footsteps of the empire taught him that Britain was "miles ahead of most countries when it comes to intercultural relations".

But he believes black youngsters don't succeed like their white counterparts because they fundamentally lack confidence.

"The horrible statistics for young black boys almost places them in a war zone of mental institutions, prisons and school exclusion. There's still a narrow perception of who these black boys can be compared to the wonderful sense of entitlement among middle class white males that they will go to public school or university and succeed as their fathers did before them.

"Through our institutions we must learn how to raise the aspirations of our young people, to turn that into concrete achievement by creating an atmosphere that says 'you can do this."

Category B, Seize The Day and Detaining Justice run in rep at The Tricycle Theatre until December 19.

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