Zadie Smith's Wife of Willesden part of Kiln Theatre's reopening season
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Zadie Smith's debut play The Wife of Willesden and an "epic" NW trilogy exploring the area's diverse communities feature in the Kiln's re-opening season.
The Kilburn venue has remained shuttered since theatres closed in March 2020, but will once again stage live performances in a "covid-safe environment" from May.
A revival of Ayad Akhtar's thriller The Invisible Hand, and the world premiere of Amy Trigg's Reasons You Should(n't) Love Me complete the re-opening season.
Artistic director Indhu Rubasingham said: "It's been a horrible, gruelling year with all the shifting information, changing plans, and working remotely in isolation, but to go from this time last year when we didn't know whether we would survive, to being in a position to announce a new season is a tribute to how hard the team have worked.
"We are looking forward to welcoming audiences back to join together in the shared experience of powerful story telling – to come out of our isolation and to laugh, debate and cry in company."
The NW Trilogy sees playwrights Moira Buffini, Suhayla El-Bushra and Roy Williams explore stories from Brent's diverse communities. Based around real events, Buffini's Dance Floor centres on homesick Aoife on a 60s night out in one of the area's dance halls and the importance of music for the Irish community. In Williams' bittersweet Life of Riley, Paulette tries to reconnect with her estranged reggae musician father - part of the Trojan Records scene of the 70s. And El-Bushra’s Waking/Walking sees Anjali, a newly arrived migrant following Idi Armin’s expulsion of Asians from Uganda, taking a stand as the Grunwick strike unfolds at a Dollis Hill factory.
Rubasingham says in a diverse borough, where more than 100 languages are spoken in schools, "it's important to celebrate the achievements of immigration in our society, things that have contributed to our identity through music, political movement, or dancing. The accumulation of those stories is so powerful. The idea of community and putting our local community on stage, celebrating those voices and journeys, is even more relevant since Covid."
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Smith's "irreverent bawdy" adaptation of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath was due to run for Brent 2020 Borough of Culture. The White Teeth author, who lives off Willesden Lane, told a virtual event in December that she hoped Elvita "a mid 50s Jamaican British Kilburn lady" would still grace the Kiln stage.
"I'd forgotten how outrageous she is. She makes Cardi B look like a nun. She's out of control, unashamed, sexually free," she said.
Rubasingham added: "I think Zadie surprised herself with how much she enjoyed writing it. It's very funny and colourful, faithful to the original but uniquely Zadie's voice with beautiful language. It puts a woman on stage who is unapologetically herself."
With social distancing forcing capacity down to just 100 seats, the first two shows have been sponsored.
"The larder is brimming with projects and commissioned playwrights, the biggest headache is the logistics of social distancing how do we get a building open and make the finances work?" said Rubasingham.
The opening show, Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me, won the inaugural Women’s Playwriting Prize and follows a woman in her 20s who has spina bifida as she negotiates "friendships, her love life, people's perceptions of her and her perception of herself."
"I remember reading it thinking 'this is so refreshing and unexpected I haven't heard this story before'. It's a funny, moving play and I am proud that in a time of incredible uncertainty we are keeping our mission to do bold new writing and telling unheard stories."
Akhbar's play, staged at The Kiln in 2016, sees a kidnapped American banker teaching Pakistani terrorists how to game the futures market. "It's a gripping thriller that exposes how countries that are more powerful can destabilise other countries under the guise of being helpful. It's very much a play for the moment."
Rubsingham says with help from the Government's Culture Recovery Fund, grants, trusts and individual generosity, Kiln was able to survive and continue its work with young people.
"It was about survival, there was a constant tension between saving money and wanting to create. It caused us an important moment 'if we are not producing theatre what are we about?' We quickly decided we were only going to open if we could stay open but should continue to serve our local community at a time when we were all in crisis."
She adds: "If I have come away with one thing, it's reminded me how much I love theatre and how powerful it is for society - from the development of artists, to giving people a voice and enabling us to share the complexities of our varied lived experiences."
Book for Kiln's reopening season here https://kilntheatre.com/