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Black Love On Trial

When Torn first premiered at the Arcola theatre, it sold out in the first two weeks.  Back with a new cast and creative team, Torn explores the African Caribbean divide. Femi Oguns explains why its refreshing theatre keeps exploring sensitive subject matters of this nature.

Jocelyn,_Femi,_Kelle,_WilTorn is a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet, told through the lens of the cultural divide and tensions in the Black British community. David and Natasha are lovers, one is African and the other is Jamaican. Together they are building a life which is soon threatened by their family’s opposition to their cross-cultural relationship.

Written by Femi Oguns, who also stares in the lead role of David, Torn challenges the prejudice and stereotype views British Africans and Afro-Caribbeans hold of each other. Oguns said the inspiration for Torn is based on similar life experiences of those around him. However, he promises the audience should expect to see something different to last year’s production. He said, “This year’s one is absolutely different. This one has gone more in-depth into the whole issue of inter-racial conflict between African and Caribbean communities. What’s different is the emotional journey and also those questions that haven’t really been answered. They are coming out this time around. This really goes back into the days of slavery and how that has influenced our mindset. So, we are going real, real deep.”

The African Caribbean divide was widely explored in 2007, Statement of Regret by Kwame Kwei-Armah looked at it from a political viewpoint and Joe Guy, produced by Tiata Fahodzi examined it from the perspective of football and celebrity culture. Oguns said, “It is absolutely fantastic and great that we as a community paint our own picture and not allow ourselves to be dictated to by the stereotypical plays about gun violence and knife crime even though they are needed.”

“We are made up of so many different facets and levels and we are human beings and we live a human life. So, having all these plays as they have done is one of those things that put positive energy out there.” The play also boasts of a strong cast of actors, Jocelyn Jee Essien, star of 3 Non Blondes and Little Miss Jocelyn, Wil Johnson and Kelle Bryan of former R&B girl group, Eternal. Bryan, who takes on the role of Natasha, describes her character as “Feisty, she has got lots of energy and drive. She is an interesting girl but she is also in transition. She is growing up, definitely changing and discovering who she is and finding her place in life.”

When asked if the black community was leaving itself open for criticism by exploring sensitive subjects such as the inter-racial tensions that exits between them on the live stage. Bryan said, “I think it is a safe forum to bring awareness to things like this. That’s one good thing about the media, be it television or stage, it is a safe forum to explore those feelings and emotions openly.”

“It helps people to see the other side of the story. We tend to only focus on our own views and what we feel about the subject. What theatre does is that it looks at it from all different aspects, so that you see the whole picture and have an informed view of what you see and that is what instigates change.”

A viewpoint also shared by Oguns. He said, “We have always been a community that don’t really like to hang our dirty laundry for people to see but I don’t really think it’s about people on the outside. It is really about us as a community.”

Oguns believes these issues have to be addressed to the point where we can acknowledge that we are one as a people rather than dividing ourselves into sub-cultures groups. “We are black, full stop. So, I think these issues have to be addressed in a way that educates us and reaffirms that we are one as a people,” he says.

A production that is bound to get people talking, Bryan says she wants it to raise questions in the minds of the audience. She said, “I am hoping it will have impact on the audience, invokes questioning and hopefully thoughtfulness and a very reflective state. I think if we can make people think about how they would react in a similar situation, then I think we would have done a fantastic job.”

Related Topics: Confronting My Preferential Prejudice

Fighting For The Attention of The Black Man By His Black Sisters

Note: This article was rifts published by The Voice Newspaper in 2008

Image: Simon Annand


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