Talawa Firsts Returns Next Month

The festival runs from 3- 14 July.

By: Jun. 02, 2023
Talawa Firsts Returns Next Month

Now in its 11th year, Talawa Firsts is expanding, becoming an epic two-week festival of innovative writing, poetry, live music, cabaret, wellbeing workshops, networking and a club night this July.  After a decade of celebrating new work and providing space for Black artists to create and develop, Talawa Theatre Company is growing its Talawa Firsts programme to include more events than ever before alongside premieres of new works-in-progress.  Talawa Firsts 2023 will bring a fun and original fortnight of culture and the performing arts to the heart of Croydon this summer. 

Talawa is the UK’s outstanding Black theatre company, which has shone a spotlight on Black British artists for over 37 years.  Talawa Firsts will see different themes each day during this new-look contemporary festival: Mondays are dedicated to The Scratches, a scratch night showcasing excerpts of the plays developed by the 2023 cohort of Talawa’s Introduction to Writing Group; Tuesdays will see The Link-Ups, facilitated, intentional and thoughtful networking events led by Talawa’s New Work team; The Immersive works will be on Wednesdays; Thursdays will host The Double-Bills; and Friday will shake things up with The Motives – a rooftop club night and a poetry jam.  

Week One promises to deliver great new works, networking and the highly anticipated club night.  Kicking off the festival is the Croydon Writers’ Showcase on 3rd July.  Talawa’s 2023 Introduction to Writing Group, led by Michelle Matherson and the New Work team, have spent six months honing their craft and voices as the next generation of south London writing talent.  New ideas with no limits are on show at this exciting scratch night, featuring plays by Leke Zaharia-Cole, Khai Shaw, Amarra Smith, Eveline Reynolds-Boison, Lejaun Sheppard, Siannarah Millanaise, Cassandra Kyeyune, Anisha Kasozi, Kai Gama, Leah Omonya and Leeta Holmes.  4th July will see The Black Dramaturgs Link-Up, a dedicated networking evening for Black writers, shining a light on and advising on the increasingly important role of the dramaturg in theatre.  On 5th July, audiences can enjoy the first of The Immersives, an all-encompassing mysterious cabaret night, Nyumbani by Andrea Lungay in collaboration with Cocoa Butter Club’s finest artists interwoven as part of the immersive experience.  After three years in prison, Hugo looks forward to returning to his best friend and business partner Leslie, who has been holding the fort at the Nyumbani Lounge, a haven for Black people in 1920s Britain, but hidden secrets lurk in the shadows of this lively cabaret bar.  Nyumbani is perfect for cabaret lovers and immersive theatre lovers alike.  

Talawa Firsts’ bread-and-butter is the Double-Bill, a chance for new writers to showcase their work together.  The first Double-Bill on 6th July will feature How We Sing Our Bodies by poet Malika Booker, a poetic dance duologue exploring the relationship between a gay couple in the Caribbean during the AIDS epidemic.  This will be followed by Love in Gravitational Waves by playwright Testament, a play about love and identity, inspired by over 40 interviews with people in London on the subject of love and dating.  Bronwyn believes that society’s divisions could be healed by relationships with people outside her bubble or world view: ‘the Other’ – through a series of dates and app interactions, the audience will meet characters in search of something better. 

On 7th July, the Metta Young Black Men’s Project will present a Yoga & Wellbeing workshop with Gerrard Martin, an opportunity for young Black men (aimed at 18-25-year-olds) to embrace all parts of themselves, while projecting positive energy and kindness towards others.  The evening will see a change of pace with Queer Bruk, an epic rooftop club night until 2am hosted by Akeil Onwukwe-Adamson, with some of the best queer, Black DJs bringing Black energy, joy and amazing sounds to the heart of Croydon.

Week Two promises to be just as good, with new writing excerpts by Leke Zaharia-Cole, Khai Shaw, Amarra Smith, Eveline Reynolds-Boison, Lejaun Sheppard, Siannarah Millanaise, Cassandra Kyeyune, Anisha Kasozi, Kai Gama, Leah Omonya and Leeta Holmes in the Croydon Writers’ Showcase on 10th July, and The Black Theatre-makers Link-Up on 11th July, a legendary link-up in the making, where Talawa will open up their Studio to host Black theatre-makers seeking to broaden their network – from writers, directors and producers to movement artists, designers and performers.  The second immersive show of the festival will be on 12th July, 1884 by Rhianna Ilube.  This interactive, satirical and playful theatrical experience is inspired by the 1884 Berlin Conference and anti-colonial resistance movements.  Enter the world of Wilhelm Street and discover this little-known conference that irreversibly changed the course of history in Europe, Africa, and the world.  

The second Double-Bill on 13th July features Bougie Lanre’s Boulangerie by Kareem Parkins-Brown.  This restaurant-set uproarious comedy exposes a world of raging waiters, kind cooks, rude customers and gentrifying pop-ups – putting the ‘cuss dem’ in customer.  Rubi Alexandra’s Good Vibrations follows, following estranged sisters Hannah and Abigail, who learn their record shop-owning father Ben has died and they must work together to give their father a fitting send-off.  

On 14th July, Amarnah Amuludun hosts a voice and breath workshop, Embodied Voice: Voice & Movement, exploring how the voice and breath can connect and interlink.  In the evening, BORN::FREE presents Veranda: Summer Soiree.  BORN::FREE is one of London’s leading platforms for African and Afrodiasporic poetry and new writing, with a focus on creation, craft and critique.  Veranda is their flagship poetry jam, a series of experimental performance events centering Black British and Afrodiasporic writers of all disciplines. 

New ideas, no limits: Talawa Firsts 2023 promises to be an incredible, original and legendary two weeks of new theatre and immersive shows, meet-ups, amazing live music, innovative poetry, self-care workshops and more.  Talawa Firsts is aimed at avid theatre-goers and those who have never been to the theatre but are interested in coming along.  The festival aims to be accessible to everyone, with many events free or pay what you can, and no tickets over £15 for the paid-for events.  Talawa Firsts invites anyone and everyone to enjoy this fortnight festival of culture in Croydon – from local Croydoners to all Londoners, who can reach Talawa HQ at Fairfield Halls on the Overground.   


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