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Zodwa Nyoni’s play opens West Yorkshire Playhouse season

Compelling new voice in the UK’s cultural landscape ... Leeds-based Zodwa Nyoni

11/02/2015 00:00:00
by Showbiz Reporter
Case of the ex ... Lynette Clarke during rehearsals
Show tackles uncertainty of immigration

ZIMBABWE born playwright, poet and performer Zodwa Nyoni’s first full length play Boi Boi is Dead opens the new season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Saturday, running until early next month.

Described by critics as a compelling new voice on the UK’s cultural landscape, Zodwa’s short play Nine Lives sold out at the Playhouse last year.

The Leeds-based playwright presents Boi Boi is Dead just after completing a year as the Channel 4 writer in residence at the Playhouse.

Set in Zimbabwe, the production breaks a much criticised tradition whereby major theatres rarely “enlist the talents – or tell the stories – of anyone outside the white establishment”, remarked a local critic.

In the production, Boi Boi – an Afro-jazz legend, father, lover, playboy, husband, rule breaker, enigmatic force of nature - is dead. But not forgotten.

And left alone to rebuild her life, Miriam’s heartache is however, interrupted when Boi Boi’s reckless ex-wife Stella and traditionalistic brother show up to stake their claim on his name, on his property and to revel in the glory of his fame.

Determined to keep her family together, Miriam’s life is thrown into turmoil when Stella discovers the secret she shared only with Boi Boi. Will the beguiling Stella be triumphant in the face of Boi Boi’s death?

The plays is directed by Lucian Msamati, a renowned actor, perhaps best known for his role as JLB Matekoni in the television adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency and as Salladhor Saan in Game of Thrones.

The play is poetic, refreshing and a very different way to start the year ... Lucian Msamati

While born in the UK, Msamati grew up in Zimbabwe and says he knew early on that he wanted to be on the stage.

“Zimbabwe was culturally vibrant, but there was no active entertainment industry. Hollywood was million miles away, it was another world and unless you were incredibly lucky, acting was still viewed as a hobby,” he told The Yorkshire Post in a recent interview.

“I went to Prince Edward School in Harare which had a fantastic cultural programme and for me and group of friends that’s where it all started.


“School gave us a foundation to believe in ourselves, so when we saw actors on screen we didn’t think, ‘I would like to do that’, we genuinely believed that we could do it.”

Since moving to Britain, Msamati has worked closely with the Tricycle Theatre, appeared on most of the big London stages and made the move into television. However, without the grounding he got in Zimbabwe he knows none of it might have happened.

“It was in Zimbabwe where I learnt my trade,” he said.

Rehearsals ... Lynette Clarke who plays Boi Boi’s reckless ex-wife Stella

But Msamati’s thoughts are with Zodwa’s debut play.

“It’s a great opportunity for a Leeds-based writer who is amazing,” he said.

“I think it’s poetic, refreshing and a very different way to start the year. What I really loved about it was the fact that it was unapologetically poetic and theatrical.

“It didn’t wear its cultural significance on its sleeve and there was a sophistication to the writing. At its heart it is a drama of a family battling with grief, secrets and lies.”

While the writing, setting and music mark Boi Boi is Dead out as different, at its heart are the same things that all good plays have in common: a human story, told honestly and eloquently.

Msamati agrees saying: “I am looking forward to the audiences seeing something very familiar but done, hopefully, in a different and refreshing way.”

Petu Joseph Adelakun
Boi Boi Jack Benjamin
Stella Lynette Clarke
Ezra Andrew French
Una Debbie Korley
Miriam Angela Wynter

Writer Zodwa Nyoni
Director Lucian Msamati
Designer Francisco Rodriguez-Weil
Musical Director & Composer Michael Henry
Movement Director Coral Messam
Sound Designer Simon McCorry
Dramaturg Alex Chisholm
Assistant Director (BirkBeck Trainee) Tyrrell Jones
Stage Manager Alexa Penny
Deputy Stage Manager Kate Margretts
Assistant Stage Manager Katie Howard

Boi Boi is Dead, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, February 14 to March 7. 0113 213 7700, www.wyp.org.uk

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