Ghanaian-British actress Adjoa Andoh (right) who has challenged stereotypes all her working life, has created theatrical history by co-directing and acting in the first major play in which all cast and crew are women of colour. In this exclusive interview, she tells Belinda Otas why her production of Shakespeare's Richard II has an all women-of-colour ensemble at a time when the UK is facing up to the reality of Brexit and people are grappling with questions about identity and nationhood.
What a time to be, given all the global upheavals--from Donald Trump's tenure at the White House to Brexit--and here you are, a woman of British-Ghanaian heritage, co-directing and acting in Richard II. Why pick William Shakespeare's play?
I feel there's something about this play that is relevant to this moment. In the UK, we are talking Brexit, we are talking the Wind rush scandal and we are talking Grenfell [the London tower block that caught fire in 2017, when over 70 lives were lost]. Globally, we have Yemen, Venezuela and Donald Trump.
What all of this feels like is a huge moment of fracturing in the world and our public discourse. We also have #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo--you name it.
There's a line in the play where Bolingbroke (a leading character) is being treasonous and the character I play, Richard II says, "The cloak of night being plucked from off their backs"
It's as if you thought you were getting away with it and then bam [claps her hands] off it comes and your sin is exposed in the daylight. That's the language of the play.
What's brilliant about Shakespeare is that in any play ofhis, there's always something which reflects what is happening in the contemporary world and is completely on point at any moment. That's why I love him so much. I have just been made an associate at the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) and for me, Shakespeare is the greatest humanitarian playwright ever.
I also just finished doing a movie about Nelson Mandela in South Africa. When Mandela and fellow political detainees were on Robben Island, they had the complete works of Shakespeare smuggled in under the cover of a Hindu prayer book.
They did so because the plays encouraged them, gave them courage and made them reflect on their situations. They used to pass the volume round and they would read it and underline their favourite bits.
I think Shakespeare was a person who wrote from the heartbeat, and had a great love of humanity. I think those people in that dire situation on Robb en Island understood that love and that wisdom, and they found it of great comfort and a great encouragement. That's how I feel about Shakespeare, [the plays are] endlessly comforting.
This particular production comes with a twist too. The ensemble and company of both the creative and production teams are all women of colour. What has that journey entailed for you?
I went to Michelle Terry, who runs the Globe Theatre in London which is a replica of the original theatre where most of Shakespeare's plays were performed--about a different project that didn't work out, but she asked me if I would be interested in directing Richard II.
It was not a play that I knew particularly well, so I said I would go and read it, which I did. I came back and I was very excited about it.
This is a great play about England. Shakespeare describes it as 'Tins royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, ' and ' This precious stone set in a silver sea'. He also tells the story of the first king in this country to be deposed in office.
Richard II wasn't beheaded, he wasn't killed in battle and he didn't die of known natural causes. He was removed by the Commons.
I said to Michelle that I was very interested in doing the play because it would come at a time when it feels like the whole of England is in a tumult of conversation about what this nation is. What's the identity of this country? Who has the right to call themselves part of it and who doesn't; who owns the flag and who built this nation? Who...