Location: Queens Park, Northwest London
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Technician: Jessica Higgs
Topics List: Jae Smith
For video timings see Mustapha Matura video Topics List
00:00:00 Family background. Born in Trinidad. Mother – born one of four: three sisters and a brother. Comfortable but not rich. Grandmother died in childbirth giving birth to his uncle, the only son and the youngest. Mother and siblings raised by a strict aunt who was a seamstress. Mother’s Grandfather died working on the Panama Canal. Father a chauffeur for one of the sugar plantation owners in Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad. Mother worked in the men’s department of a department store, Port of Spain. Father and Mother met in Port of Spain.
00:01:52 Religious background and influences. Mother and siblings raised by aunt as Anglicans. Father, a Hindu, converted to Anglican to marry Mustapha (MM)’s mother, ‘…in order to marry her, she wouldn’t marry him otherwise and Aunty insisted that he become…he converted to Christianity.’ Parents moved away from their families into a mixed community in Belmont, Port of Spain. Began their own family, having their two sons. Mustapha originally named Noel Cuthbert and his brother Bradman.
00:03:32 Childhood, father’s illness and death. Experienced wonderful childhood playing in the nearby forest. School holidays, weekends and after school spent, fishing, playing, climbing trees. ‘… all school holidays and free time we’d go and play there climbing trees being Tarzan swinging through the trees eating fruit, fishing catching fish very, very, very beautiful, and innocent and blissful as… as young boys like it…’ Memories of father drinking which affected their lives particularly his mother’s as she came from a middle class family with middle class pretensions. Father falls ill and later dies.
00:05:39 School, rebellion and Anti-authoritarian outlook . Attended Belmont Boys Intermediate RC Roman Catholic school. Father’s death possible catalyst for hatred of school around age of 13 or 14. Anti-authoritarian – didn’t respect his teachers, was a rebel.
00:06:27 ‘It was just pure instinct on my part or maybe it was political but I wasn’t aware of it but I didn’t like the teachers and they didn’t like me I didn’t respect them I don’t know why I was just a rebel.’ The teachers’ strict and notorious for physical discipline. Chooses to leave school to become breadwinner.
00:07:19 Early employment and introduction into a grown up world. Employed as an office boy at solicitors’ firm where his aunts worked. MM views this new experience as a life experience and is fascinated by office politics. MM discovers an interest and beauty in the world of language and acquires access to the world of legal language.
00:07:42 ‘It was an introduction into a grown up world which I found fascinating and I was the office boy – I’d go to the bank etc post letters, take letters, deliver letters by hand, legal papers and so and I learnt language too because the whole legal language of there-of and legalese, the legal terms I started learning and discovering a whole new world which was the whole the beauty of and music of language of legal language which I found fascinating and I was soaking up and absorbing all the time and I really enjoyed that and I was there for nearly five years…’
00:08:49 Friendships, interests in Cinema, carnival and theatre. Friendship with cashier in bank who suggests going to the Pasadena Playhouse, school of drama in Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California. Both interested in cinema at the time. Theatre not much of an interest as very little theatre in Trinidad at the time. Theatre in Trinidad at the time comprised of mainly British ex-patriots producing farces and classical plays. Touring British Theatre companies staging plays by Sheridan, Shakespeare, Goldsmith etc. Pantomimes also performed at Christmas. Memories of carnival , playing in a steel band, meeting girls and partying.
00:10:46 Work incident and failed plans. Loses office payroll, pays it back using own savings. Puts end to plan to accompany friend to Santa Monica’s Pasadena Playhouse. Loses touch with friend until many years later (ten, possibly twenty years later). Meets him in Trinidad at the Holiday Inn. Friend remarkably changed. Enquiries into his estranged friend’s sister who became infamous as a political whistleblower highlighting a continued interest in the undertones of the political landscape and politicians.
00:13:47 Influence of cinema and Hollywood film stars. Cinema is a major influence. Film stars such as Marlon Brando and James Dean idolised.
00:13:54 ‘All the Hollywood classics, they even came to Trinidad before they came to England because Trinidad was an easier market or more accessible or whatever reason but we got all the Hollywood classics, new films as soon as they were released we got them and we packed the cinema and go and see double features every night and sometimes when you had nothing else to do you go and watch the film and so and naturally we were all influenced by it.’
00:14:30 Cinemas in Trinidad at the time, [De Luxe Cinema on Keate Street, Port-of–Spain, Palladium Cinema in Tunapuna, Ritz, Eastern Main Road,San Juan, Globe, San Juan,Globe, Green Corner, Port of Spain, Astor, Baden-Powell Street, Woodbrook,Empire, Frederick Street, Strand ,Park Street, Superstar, Vistarama, Altamira, National and National II (Port-of-Spain); Rio (Old St Joseph Road, Laventille); Pyramid (Charlotte Street); Royal (Observatory Street); Odeon (East Dry River); Olympic (Earthig Road, Belmont); and Rex, Diego Martin Main Road]. Distracted in his work with the apparent Hollywood dream his work standards and effectiveness is jeopodised at the solicitors’ office. Is sacked from solicitors office
00:15:32 New job and life at Hotel Normandy, Trinidad. Second job at French run Hotel Normandy, Port of Spain. Bar work. Many American military and their spouses are hotel guests. A large satellite disc and tracking station had been erected covering the Caribbean area. Fascination with life styles and clandestine and romantic behaviour of the hotel guests. Cheddi Jagan [1917-1997] Prime Minister of Guyana frequents the hotel and is a focus of interest as if a window into character presence through body language. Bar work teaches him about liquor and tobacco.
00:15:12 ‘I learnt all about liquors and tobacco through the bar and the barmen and I, we were fiddling the bar and tasting the rum.’ Conflict between himself and a French bar manager. Recounts story of using a typewriter where he types a damning comment about the boss of the hotel which is retrieved from a litter bin by the French manager and shown to the owner. Sacked from hotel job. Gets job on wharf, docks.
00:19:28 Career progression, aspirations and rebelliousness . Mother appears tolerant towards his career undertakings including his aspirations in acting. Mother held slight anti-establishment attitude herself.
00:19:55 ‘She may have encouraged me indirectly in my rebelliousness or so by not being too strict about my career prospects.’ Life on the docks plus first Black consciousness encounter. Job as a customs clerk. Mother’s boyfriend worked for dock workers union and finds MM job on the docks. Check on the cargoes. Interesting experiences working on the docks (late 1950s)
00:21:10 Late 1950s. First encounter with Black Consciousness and Black Politics. Superman to Man written by J A Rogers, self published 1917.
00:21:43 ‘They had a list and if you wanted to read it you put your name down and when your turn came they would give you the book and you would read it and then you would pass it on which I mean was quite subversive it was all so self-generated.’
00:22:30 ‘It was my first eye opener to Black politics and my consciousness, my conscience, was stirred and aroused at that time and that really began my political… racial politics…’ Experiences abuse, bullying from over a hundred plus dockworkers when mistakenly identified as an informant against one of the workers, this is a time of personal danger yet a significant time of self-discovery and personal development. Exonerated and the real informant a carpenter preacher is identified. Leaves job at the docks after saving a lot of money. Decides to leave Trinidad for England.
00:27:45 1961 on the way to England ‘The Colonial Motherland’. Fourteen days in steerage on a Dutch ship. Approximately three hundred men in steerage. Fights, gambling, stealing onboard.
oo:29:08 ‘Women had stow-awayed – how they managed that I don’t know – I mean what…you know you hide and and wait until the ship leaves and then when it’s mid ocean you emerge.’ An eventful journey with gambling, fights, stealing and a variety of past times. He shared a cabin with Duce, a saxophonist jazz musician deported from Trinidad to Europe.
00:31:16 ‘I made friends with two Dutch seamen and they offered I had a book a copy of Playboy magazine with poems by Robert Graves in it and wonderful Japanese lithographs, and they liked my …the Robert Graves poem and they offered to swap the Playboy magazine to me with a copy of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, who I’d never heard of, but once I started reading it I became hooked and fascinated by it so we did a swap.’ Suggestions that he should work at Findus fish factory when in England.
00:32:36 Arriving in England. Arrives in Plymouth, England 1961, age 21. Misty morning around 2 o’clock . Flat platform ferry transports new arrivals from ship to harbour. Rum situation before reaching customs. Train to Paddington, London. Met by the friend he would be residing with.
00:34:36 Employment in England. Finds job as porter in a hospital, National Temperance Hospital, Hampstead Road, London. Jobs had no real sense of purpose. Jobs lined up eg London Transport etc
oo:35:13 ‘…job was a job – there weren’t any jobs in the Caribbean , there were few and far between. England was looking for labour after the war building the country.’ Windrush generation.
00:35:40 ‘…you didn’t stay for awhile you came for life…’ Expectations to do something artistic eg architecture as interested in the work of Brazillian architect, Laco Besuvier, also interested in acting as well as developing his artistic interest, acting, practice of painting e.g. a copy of a Van Gogh.
00:37:09 Horace Ove and going to Rome, Italy. Invitation to Rome, Italy comes whilst working at the hospital from friend Horace Ove. [HO born 1939. British Independent film maker and director,writer, photographer and painter. Film/Documentary credits; The Art of the Needle Baldwin’s Nigger, Reggae ( BBC), Coleherne Jazz and Keskidee Blues (BBC),The Black Safari BBC, The World Around Us, King Carnival, The Mangrove Nine (producer; directed by Franco Rosso, scripted by John La Rose, Pressure (film),Skateboard Kings BBC, Empire Road (TV series; episodes 5, 6 and 10), A Hole in Babylon BBC, Stretch Hunter, The Latchkey Children ( ITV, 6 episodes) The Garland (BBC, Play for Today; co-written with H. O. Nazareth, Street Art Channel 4 , Music Fusion (Channel 4), Dabbawallahs, Playing Away (feature film; Channel 4), The Orchid House adapted by Phyllis Shand Allfrey), Dream To Change the World a tribute to John La Rose, The Ghost of Hing King Estate]. HO is an exta on the Cleopatra movie being filmed in Rome at the time. [Cleopatra movie 1963, Director Joseph L. Mankiewkicz, starring Elizabeth Taylor , Richard Burton and Rex Harrison]. In Rome, MM and HO find jobs as actors/dancers on a cowboy western movie as part of a group of railway workers. Scene runs over schedule, is problematic, no money for two weeks whilst rehearsing. MM volunteers to drop out of movie with pay to return to England.
00:39:56 Introduction to Black Theatre – Shakespeare in Harlem [Langston Hughes]. Plans change when African Americans hire Teatro Galdini Theatre and MM stays in Rome and gets work as stage/curtain-hand: job pulling curtains for Shakespeare in Harlem. Introduction to first ever all African/Caribbean American cast theatre experience in Shakespeare in Harlem production at Teatro Galdini, Rome. Based on the poems Shakespeare in Harlem by Langston Hughes, 1942. [Langston Hughes b.1902 James Mercer Langston Hughes, American poet (jazz poetry, playwright, novelist, columnist and considered a pioneer of the Harlem Renaissance [a movement that ‘rebirth of African American arts 1918 to mid 1930s]. Meets Langston Hughes who turns up at a performance.
oo:41:15 ‘I was inspired… by this… Shakespeare in Harlem and I could translate that into the Caribbean life style in London and I thought that’s what I’ll do I’ll go back to London,take my money and go back to London and start writing… and I did that… and I came back to London.’
00:41:35 Returns to London, England, 1962. Returns to London, reconnects with actors and directors he’d met previously. Narrowed creative focus. Starts to go to theatres to expand and deepen creatively.
oo:42:13 First Black play he sees in London, Royal Court Theatre, 1961-1962 Death of Bessie Smith. [Death of Bessie Smith, one act play by Edward Albee] with Earl Cameron. Independent French and Italian films eg Fellini. Absorbing the creative energy and interests of the time. Unemployed for awhile. Finds job in garment factory at lunchtimes and would write. Borrows a typewriter to type out a play.
00:43:55 Black consciousness and registering racism in England, 1960’s. Ideas for plays occurring. African- American wave of Black consciousness feeds into England’s Black communities. Michael X of the Black Panther Party in London. Life in Surbiton, Surrey. Employed at Helena Rubenstein factory packing cosmetics. Enjoys sense of solidarity, community, camaraderie especially with lots of Jamaicans employed there and at lunchtimes got together drumming using empty boxes and banter. Store-room chatter indicated a ‘subtle message’ of an awareness of their position in the ‘Motherland’ and the affects of their arrival into English society. Racism encountered at the time identified as subtle and subversive. Identifies a lack of honesty and openness. Had come from the Caribbean with a suitcase to England without any plans or places to stay ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs, No coloureds’. Entered a society that years before was welcoming African Caribbean labour and soldiers to fight for the Empire. Identifies schizoid attitudes the African and Caribbean community are forced to navigate through.
00:47:08 ‘Kind of strange…schizoid…attitude, that we were having to deal with and you know we were simple folks coming from the Caribbean and who you know we called a spade a spade and we didn’t have any deep subversive attitudes – that came afterwards when we discovered the people who pretended not to know, knew what they were doing and the effects of what they were doing and so this was sort of the melting pot that I found myself in and was observing and as I said I began to write.’
00:48:00 Early writing, finding the true voice, creates short plays- Black Pieces, Roland Rees and Ed Berman. His writing is influenced by a consciousness and a particular ethos of the Black movement – to use truth and honesty to tell it [pre-colonial, colonial, post-colonial and neo-colonial experience of the African diaspora] like it is. Makes conscious decision to write in the Caribbean language and vernacular. In doing so creative ideas are released and characters and situations begin to overflow. Writes short plays about West Indians which afford little or no interest.
Shows scripts of [six] short plays to friends one of whom [actor Stefan Kalipha] shows the scripts to Roland Rees [director and founder of the Foco Novo theatre company] who was running a programme of a season of plays for Ed Berman [Ed Berman, Professor Edward David Berman MBE b. March 1941, American-born, British producer, director, playwright, actor, activist,author etc ] of The Almost Free Theatre set up in 1971.
Black Pieces performed 1970, Black and White Power Season, ICA, The Mall, Mickery Theatre, Amsterdam, directed by Roland Rees with actors Alfred Fagon [b. June 1937 d. August 1986] T-Bone Wilson and Stefan Kalipha [b.1940 – ] On holiday in Cornwall with wife sees a surprisingly complimentary review of his plays [Black Pieces, ICA 1970] in The Telegraph newspaper.
Career as professional writer begins. Met wife, a nurse at National Temperance Hospital and set up house. Pursues writing and developing plays.
00:53:04 Actor friend Stephan Kalipha in Mustapha’s Black Pieces. Friends from Trinidad. SK worked on the ships unaware he was an actor. SK becomes an actor, trains at East 15 drama school. SK performs in Black Pieces, ICA. MM mentions production at the Royal Court [As Time Goes By, 1971 his first full-length play].
00:53.54 Theatre addressing the Black experience and audiences. Identifies a hunger for work that addressed the Black experience in the UK but not enough of it. Highlights audience to his plays as mostly white middle class, curious or aware that black theatre was different.
00:54:35 ‘We wanted more black people to come in because black people… black audiences brought a different energy with them because they would engage with the play and argue with the play and shout and say ‘no, it’s not like that it’s…’ And this is the way it should be, you got a direct engagement with black audiences whereas a black…a white audience would just sit back and try and be invisible, but the black people engaged and we were always complaining that black people would rather stay at home and watch Coronation Street rather than come out and and see how their lives… and when they did, it was wonderful we got: this was a creation of a black hall – theatre scene and we got black audiences, we would get the mothers, we’d get the young children who would come out through curiosity or their friends would tell them about it and then they would see it, like it and tell their mothers and their mothers would tell their granny and the aunties and the uncles and you’d get this whole generation coming out and because it was plays about their lives and there was not…nothing like that on television, there was no black actors on television at that time, very scarce, and theatre was very scarce too but black plays the… we built an audience and they came out.’
Refers to the growth of audiences through the development of more Black plays being performed. Credits Roland Rees as deserving of more acknowledgement for directing and producing many Black plays at the time. RR interested and studied Marcus Garvey [20th Century Jamaican born Pan African Leader] and the ‘Black scene’.
Oscar Abrams d. Feb 1996 age 58– Guyanese architect and Activist, [Keskidee Centre, Gifford Street, Islington 1971]. Issues around funding for many did not dishearten the love and passion. Ray Charles, Stefan Kalipha, Oscar James, T-Bone Wilson (playwright), Alfred Fagon (playwright) talented actors mentioned in the first plays with other actors on the scene i.e Rufus Collins, Lennox Brown, Derek Walcott, Pat Maddy, Lindsay Barrett, Howard Johnson, Edgar White, Yvonne Brewster, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Anton Phillips, Yemi Ajibade.
Alfred Fagon – well-brought up, finds it difficult to speak or write using swear words – needs persuading. Mona Hammond. Lack of funds impacts on keeping the group of actors together.
0059:36 ‘They were having to take work and jobs that they didn’t really believe in but they had to pay the bills and it became difficult because a lot of the actors couldn’t afford to tour and this was one of the conditions of funding that they had to tour and they couldn’t afford to do it because they had they would have had to pay two rents, which was the one in London and the one where ever they were touring.’ Economically difficult for actors with families and older – ageing up younger actors instead impacted on the integrity and quality of the drama.
01:00:52 Welcome Home Jacko. Welcome Home Jacko [The Factory, Paddington, 1978, Riverside 1979, Stratford 1983]. MM visits community centre, Sheffield for Arts Council writers’ tour. Observes situation of a white woman’s attempts to engage young black street boys in activities. Lacked resources. Boys express themselves making posters of Marcus Garvey, Michael X and Malcolm X. MM impressed with energy and situation inspired to write Welcome Home Jacko, [actors: Victor Romero-Evans, Trevor Laird, Chris Tummings, Vaz Blackwod from Anna Scher Theatre school]. WHJ begin MM’s company, Black Theatre Co-operative.
01:03:24 Black Theatre Co-operative and commissioned plays. Co-founders MM and Charlie Hanson . MM in demand. Ambiance Season, commissioned by producer Michael White MM develops As Time Goes By at Traverse Theatre for Edinburgh Festival then London’s Royal Court Theatre. As Time Goes By. First full length play about the lives of a West Indian couple living in London. Actors Stefan Kalipha, Mona Hammond, T-Bone Wilson, Alfred Fagon, Corrine Skinner-Carter.
01:05:39 The London Theatre scene, MM’s emerging writing career .[70’s ,80’s] Royal Court Theatre Upstairs. Emerging young playwrights, David Hare, Howard Brenton. Ed Berman writing and producing plays. Theatre scene is buzzing. Almost-Free Theatre [Ed Berman] produces MM’s plays Bakerloo Line [1972, Stefan Kalipha and Howard Reece] and Nice  MM attempts to move from Naturalistic format not as successful. Nice becomes response to the intellectualising of the Black political movement at the time and a favourite of MM’s work by many people.
01:08:05 ‘I thought I would write about someone who was unintellectualised and was just coming from the roots as though they had never been to England before and was just expressing themselves without the fancy language which a lot of intellectuals, political intellectuals were using lots of psychology and high high stuff and I wanted to do the opposite of that and present an uninstitutionalised character, and so I did.’
Next play Play Mas (1974), then The Coup at the National. Oscar Lewenstein [b. Jan 1917 d. Feb 1997] Artistic Director, produces MM’s Play Mas at the Royal Court. Play Mas heads to West End, is success, producers unsure by the show’s success, how to market it. Play Mas being performed next year at the Orange Tree, Richmond [March 2015]. Explores power of Carnival, lack of political ambition, lack of political insight, manipulation of the population, presenting Masquerade, Bacchanal in a political context. At Arts Council meeting for funding MM proposes Playboy of the West Indies [adapted from Playboy of the Western World by JM Synge]. MM saw Playboy of the Western World with Siobhan McKenna [Irish stage and screen actress b. May 1923 –d. Nov 1986]. Proposes adaptation of Three Sisters by Chekhov – calls it Trinidad Sisters. Nicholas Kent [ British Theatre Director, artistic director Tricycle Theatre 1984-2012, administrative director at Oxford Playhouse 1976-1981] interested in Playboy of the West Indies. Completes PBoTW within three months, observations of life and culture in Trinidad. Opens at Oxford Playhouse 1984, tours UK then Tricycle Theatre. Later tours US, Court Theatre, Chicago, Arena Stage, Washington, New Jersey and Yale Rep. Playwrighting full-time around time of Black Pieces tour in Loenersloot, Holland [Mickery Theatre 1965-1991, founding director Ritsaert ten Cate]. He glimpses an alternative life and style and that it is possible to earn a living.
01:17:19 ‘We all lived there and people from Amsterdam would come to see the plays and I got a glimpse of an alternative life… style, how it was… it would be possible to earn a living from the theatre and that changed it all when I came back to London I went to the garment factory – Rembrandt Dresses that I used to…I was working at at the time and I handed in my resignation.’
Commissioned for As Time Goes By, [ Traverse Theatre Cast: Frank Singuineau,T-Bone Wilson, Mona Hammond, Oscar James, Carole Hayman, Robert Coleby, Stefan Kalipha, Robert Atiko, Patrick Moseley ,Corinne Skinner-Carter, Alfred Fagon, Producer Director Roland Rees ].
Influenced by Fanon [Frantz Fanon b. July 1925- d. Dec 1961, African-Caribbean extraordinary 20th century thinker, writer, psychiatrist, philosopher].
Explores the whole aspect of slavery, writes one act play Black Slaves –White Chains [Royal Court, Lunchtime 1975. Cast: Saul Reichlin, Olu Jacobs, Mark Heath, Eddy Grant, Jean Warren and Director, Rufus Collins]
01:19:05 ‘It was a metaphor for the Black consciousness community at the time.’ Rum and Coca Cola, [Royal Court, Producer – Oscar Lewenstein, Director – Donald Howarth, Cast: Norman Beaton and Trevor Thomas]. Oscar Lewenstein met opposition for producing too many Black plays at the Royal Court e.g David Lan plays [b.June 1952, South African-born British playwright, theatre director, film maker, social anthropologist].
Yemi Ajibade plays July 1929– Jan 2013 Nigerian playwright, actor. Barry Reckord play.
Royal Court Theatre meant to be ‘liberal’, ‘left wing’ and ‘liberation minded theatre’ and ‘international’.
Rum and Coca Cola, two buskers who live off tourists in Trinidad, opportunity to use calypso and explore other aspects of Trinidad whilst examining themes and issues of loneliness, bonding, failed ambitions, frailty, failure, survival between two characters, one young aspiring Calypsonian and one old and lonely Calypsonian. Directed by Donald Howarth [ British theatre Director and playwright b.Nov 1931]. Also directed Play Mas.
01:28:03 Emergence of Black British directors and theatre companies, North and South of the river. Yvonne Brewster (not certain if she started directing at the time) stage director, teacher, writer, co-founder of Talawa Theatre, London and Barn Theatre, Jamaica.
Frank Cousins, running Dark and Light 1970s (later becomes Black Theatre of Brixton). Jimi Rand, Jamal Ali, T-Bone Wilson, Jason Rose. Alton Kumalo, founder, director Temba Theatre 1972 [b. Dec 1939, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe d. Aug 2013 UK] , Alby James takes over 1984.
MM talks of seeing shows of Dark and Light [Black Theatre of Brixton] describes an old town hall, classical old English building, oak-panelled rooms, possibly St Matthews Meeting Place in Brixton. Theatre companies reaching and building local black audiences. Funding eventually lost, challenged, cut by the powers that control the money, who determine the policy of the group, thus destroying the group. Keskidee Centre 1971, King’s Cross set up by Oscar Abrams.
01:32:32 The Factory [Yaa Asantewaa], Paddington]. Welcome Home Jacko, 1979. [Cast; Chris Tummings, Alrick Riley, Dorett Thompson, Gordon Case, Victor Romero Evans, Maggie Shevlin, Trevor Laird. Director Charlie Hanson]. Audience spontaneously walk on stage, move through the play mingling with the actors without dialogue, feeling a part of it as it was about them. WHJ – exploring young aspirations to become Rastafarian. Actors unphased continue.
Increase of Black writers, performers, aspiring directors collective-forming.
Keskidee Centre: Britains first arts centre for the Black community, Oscar Abrams (OA). Owner and founder put on plays by Lennox Brown [1979 Throne In An Autumn Room. Cast; Yvonne Gidden, Anton Phillips, Lloyd Anderson].
Derek Walcott [1978 Pantomime. Cast: Lloyd Anderson, Eric Richard]
Edgar White etc.[ 1977 Lament for Rastafari. Cast; Witty Forde, T Bone Wilson, Yvonne Gidden, David Haynes, Imruh Caesar], 1978 The Black Women.
OA a ‘powerful pioneer’ struggled but Keskidee grew. Funding issues usual cause of ‘places like that dying’. OA by nature, quiet,reserved British Guyanese man: exceptional record speaks for itself.
01:37:32 Rufus Collins (RC) [b. Aug 1935 d. Nov 1996]. Part of Living Theatre, USA, Experimental theatre, surreal theatre company, intellectual philosophy behind treatment of drama and communication. became involved with Keskidee.
Living Theatre production [1970’s] at the Roundhouse, difficult experience for some criticised by Michael Billington. RC joins Keskidee, who play naturalistic drama, brings a contrast in style and ‘Black power’ political awareness as an energetic director, 1976. Goes to work in Holland’s theatre scene, experimental, avant-garde and modernistic. Dies there. Britain still basically naturalistic drama. Germany experimental. RC directed at Oval House.
01:40:45 1976. Rum and Coca Cola, Brooklyn Royal Academy NY.
01:40:53 Naseem Khan’s report, The Arts Britain ignores . Recommends supporting the Arts within the African and Caribbean, Asian communities. Report welcomed however not surprising and ‘old news’. Arts Council acknowledges report but MM not sure what was implemented. Black drama receives some exposure. Powers shift to the Arts Council rather than remain with the creative people. Comments on lessening choice of artistic directors more the policy of funding body. Highlights why today  there are so few Black British Theatre Groups, companies. Talawa, Eclipse, Nitro [now Nitrobeat, Tiata Fadhozi], will later talk about Black Theatre Co-operative.
Rum and Coca Cola transfers to international festival in New York owing to success, Oscar Lewenstein and Royal Court Theatre. Caribbean drama not seen in New York at that level. African-American theatre company Negro Ensemble Company in New York, all Black production team putting on Black productions.
01:45:15 Chelsea Arts Theatre Company, New York, Manhatten-based company performed Rum and Coca Cola with Caribbean actors Lou Ferguson and Leon Morenzie (although Wendell Manwarren is mentioned it is possible it was an alternate production). Cheaper to build a new set than to transport to Manhatten. Points out friction between Black Americans and Caribbean audiences.
Unpublished MM plays:
Bread, Young Vic 1976 supported by steve carter (sc) (intentionally lowercase), African-American playwright in New York. [Works inc. One Last Look, Eden, Nevis Mountain Dew, Dame Lorraine, House of Shadows, Pecong, Shoot me while I’m happy, Spiel ’36:or the Fourth Medal.] 1968 sc becomes Director of NEC’s Playwrights workshop. Plays about Caribbean people in New York. Marcus Garvey at the time, period of political consciousness. steve carter ran workshops with John Mapondera (JM later joins Zimbabwe government). Workshops led to creation of Bread, set in Caribbean about power of money and survival of the Black community. Two years later productions Another Tuesday and More, More 1978, ICA double bill.
Refers to Black Theatre Co-operative.
Another Tuesday, plot- execution of a prisoner – about Michael X and his execution. Executions occurred on Tuesdays in the Caribbean. Hanging still a law. The play explored from the point of view of the street vendors outside the prison.
More, More, plot – a tennis match between bosses and relationships among the family members seen from the viewpoint of the ball boy. A political metaphor piece.
01:52:01 Black Theatre Co-operative . Co-founded with Charlie Hanson [British theatre and TV, film director/producer]. MM recounts how BTC came about through trial and error. Welcome Home Jacko. Negro Ensemble Company is inspiration or blueprint to BTC. BTC original actors; Chris Tummings, Alrick Riley, Dorett Thompson, Gordon Case, Victor Romero Evans, Maggie Shevlin, Trevor Laird in Welcome Home Jacko at The Factory 1979. Hanson directs the shows. BTC, a movement. Eventually difficult for the actors to also be the production team. Organisation issues.
Humphrey Barclay [b. March 1941, TV comedy executive and producer] propositions BTC to create a sitcom using BTC actors. Two week workshop. No Problem is born. [Farrukh]Dhondy [Mama Dragon, 1980].
Commitment to ‘sharpness’ and ‘political aspect’ of BTC.
Notoriety of many alternative theatre co-operatives at that time to hold lengthy company meetings and bash out the politics.
BTC affected more on the issue of what was a ‘co-operative’ and the direction BTC was heading in. Arguments and disagreements ensued. Production side and actors in conflict over the choice of target audience determining the choice of production. The actors identifying with the Black Community more than the producers. Writing challenges.
‘Writers can only write what they can write’. Arts Council funding not as much an issue following TV sitcom No Problem success. BTC prduces some theatre [1980 Mama Dragon by Farrukh Dhondy, 1984 Money To Live by Jacqueline Rudet, 65 with a Bullet, 1989] but shifts more to TV. MM himself moves more into TV as to does Charlie Hanson as well as the BTC actors in No Problem ’82,’83 etc
Party at the Palace, TV Christmas show. Regrettably not enough foresight, forward-thinking given to theatre aspect.
Welcome Home Jacko made it to a New York Festival.
Independence with Foco Novo Theatre Company, Bush Theatre 1979 – about post-colonial Trinidad and effect of colonialism on the people who inherited the Independence of Trinidad – presented through life at a hotel.
A Dying Business, 1980 Riverside Studios, Exploring Caribbean funeral and ritual, namely Anglican High Church.
One Rule, 1981 Riverside Studios, BTC, life of a rock musician- enjoyable music opportunities for the actors .
BTC engaging young audiences through youth experience.
Prior to Welcome Home Jacko not much theatre about Black youth experience and identity in Britain, exception Barry Reckord’s Skyvers [1963 Royal Court Theatre].
Main focus on 50’s, 60’s UK ‘Commonwealth’ nationals from the Caribbean moving focus to their children. Typed as a ‘ragamuffin culture’ growing in London 70s, 80s.
Ragamuffin [1988 Oval House, 1990 Hackney Empire, May 2002 Manchester, London] by Amani Naphtali.
The School Leaver [1978 Royal Court Theatre] by Michael McMillan
02:09:25 Career in the USA. Nice, Arena Stage, Washington 1980. Play Mas Chicago 1981. Theatre presenting the Caribbean experience appeared ‘lacking’ thus timely for MM. His plays resonating with the Black American and Caribbean audiences, able to bridge gaps via recognition and reconciling the inherent descendants of those from the Caribbean who left to find work as labourers, domestics, planters etc
02:11:56 Meetings. Phoenix Theatre, New York 1981, Hampstead Theatre, 1982 inspired from the idea of a well- equipped kitchen but no-one cooks. Exploring modern Trinidadian lifestyles. Meetings was not BTC but actors Rudolph Walker, Corinne Skinner and Angela Wynter and directed by MM assisted by Alby James.
02:15:48 Directing. ‘I love actors and I don’t know how they manage to do it, I admire them tremendously just their ability to memorise these lines and go out on stage every night and do it I mean, you know, I bow to them.’ Enjoys the directing experience and took to it again however aware or suspects a distrust of writers directing. Objectivity of writer is pondered on.
02:17:21 No Problem. BTC meeting in Swiss Cottage to devise sitcom series for Channel 4. First challenged by quality of ideas, frustrating process met with pressure of what they were embarking on. Miraculous recovery following a distressing football game. Shope Shodeinde suggests idea of a family. The parents have returned to the Caribbean leaving their young adult children behind in the family home.The group develop on this idea around sibling rivalries, relationships, identity, survival and life in England.
No Problem characters; Bellamy (Victor Romero Evans), Beast (Malcolm Frederick), Sensimilia, (Judith Jacob), Angel (Janet Kay), Susannah (Sarah Lam), Terri (Shope Shodeinde), Toshiba (Chris Tummings), Melba (Angela Wynter) and directed and produced by Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees (sitcom). Recalls camaraderie and bonding, able to bash the establishment and the system through the medium of comedy and get away with it. Characters developed through the situations, the actors themselves were able, had been trained at Anna Sher’s drama academy. Final meeting,Humphrey Barclay and LWT people, BTC and MM present their idea. Success. A hit with the Black community and young audiences.
MM raises the issue of the repeated requests for a revival or to obtain the Rights but no reply to requests.
02:24:23 Black Silk [BBC TV 8 part drama series 1985]. Collaboration with Barrister Rudy Narayan, Producer Ruth Boswell at the BBC, Director Tim King. Based on Rudy Narayan a Black British Lawyer, activist and champion of civil rights causes in London. Main Cast: Rudolph Walker (lead role, Larry Scott), Kika Markham (Julie Smythe), Suzette Llewellyn (Jasmine Scott), Mona Hammond (Marjorie Scott), Allister Bain (Pedro Ojo). Rudolph Walker’s excellent portrayal of Larry.
MM states that being busy on other work commitments led to his lack of supervision of the story lines. Series suffered with the number of different writers thus losing a cohesiveness. Wanted to develop the character further into an MP but producers did not find it realistic or believable. Eventually UK has it’s Black politicians i.e.Paul Boateng, (who comes via the Law sector, Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant etc)
Connection made to MM’s first ever employment at the law firm in Trinidad. He expresses that there is still room for the emergence of a UK Black barrister series.
02:27:48 Trinidad Sisters (sometimes referred to as Three Sisters). Idea arose from Arts Council meeting for funding. Previously tried working on a version of Three Sisters by Chekhov but unhappy with it. Second attempt came when Eclipse Theatre Company asked MM to do a re-write [Dir. Paulette Randall]. Realised he had given ‘too much reverence to the original’, second attempt respects but disregards original and approaches TS through a Trinidadian lens. Draws on his mother her three sisters and self-destructive brother. Achieves a ‘roots version’ he calls Trinidad Sisters. Performed at the Tricycle Theatre, 1988. USA. Many classics being revived now but has no current ideas. His TS has been produced a number of times; The Arena Stage, Washington 1992, Radio Version, BBC World Service, April 2001, Birmingham Repertory 2006, 10 week tour (this production reworked and using Three Sisters as original title was also successful. Refers to Chekhov achieving a certain mystique’ about himself.
02:31:01 Agents. Began with Clive Goodwin – b. June 1932 d. November 1978 in Beverly Hills, LA California, US. Cerebral Haemorrhage. Tragic circumstances. Second agent, Margaret Ramsey b.1908 d.1991. Finally and to date Judy Daish when commissioned by the National.
02:32:26 Commissioned by National Theatre in 1991 – The Coup. Short gap between 1989 Playboy of the West Indies and The Coup 1991. Inspired by a coup in Trinidad that did not go to plan. Dr Eric Williams first PM at the time of uprising April 1970. Written before the second coup took place in 1990. Play explores how his personality, life, policies, ideologies impact on the people of the island. The attempt to overthrow Williams and why Trinidad and its politics works the way it does. Production is well received at the National Theatre. A scene with two nuns observing the dead body of the Prime Minister offends a real nun. Performed in the Cottesloe. Not many Black plays had performed at the Cottesloe. Black audience attended, possible concerns that The Coup would have been better positioned in the Black community rather than at the National Theatre. Well attended and many noticeably impressed over MM achieving a command, power and musicality of language in his writing. Commissions that followed after The Coup. Arena Stage, Washington DC. Commission a play, their brief – for Americans about American and Caribbean people. Small World , 1994, Trinidadian politician comes to Washington, meets a past girlfriend he had in Trinidad. She runs a bar. MM rises to challenge to interpret his impression of America. Standing ovations. Themes focus on loss – lost love, lost opportunities, victims of ambition etc Small World later premiers at Southwark Playhouse, London. Comments at the strangeness of seeing his American play in London.
02:43:59 Current work. Has a play written that he looks forward to seeing done. Does not want to do another play before it. Politics of theatre, playwrighting, productions and programming – ‘the whole assembly-line aspect of theatre I object to’. Remarks on cliques and ethics as well as the changed ‘infrastructure of the theatre’ . Vastly noticeable reduction in Black Theatre companies especially since the 70, 80s. Notices Black writing these days selected for broader mainstream audience. Reflection on plays MM has seen more recently not deemed as ‘challenging or questioning certain situations which should be questioned. Sees central issue as result of implantation of policies. Generally theatres in today’s society now do their ‘quota’ of Black plays which tends to extend to one or two for the year in line with or determined by the Arts Council’s policy. Comments on the powers in the hands of administrators rather than theatre directors. Current British television – tries to think of a black cast series (drama, sitcom etc) Highlights the poor representation of the UK population ie Chinese, Polish, East Europeans, etc on British TV.
02:46:55 ‘I mean there’s every nationality living in London and parts and the major cities in England and they’re not represented unfortunately. Concludes that things have gotten worse. Narrowed choices. Due to old school and University networks. Focus on funding, pleasing mainstream audience and personal ambition. Poses issue of loss of purpose of promoting diversity and commonalities of Black culture, talent, experiences, individuals and community. Draws an interesting correlation with the issue as highlighted in The Coup resulting in an outcome of weak and mediocre drama. Prospects for the future of theatre arts and culture. Focuses on the younger generation coming through. Enjoyment of working with them. Observes they have many ideas, ambitions and daring and funding is more accessible for them.