Theresa Ikoko: ‘Putting your work out there is like sending your child to school naked’
Theresa Ikoko’s first produced play, Girls, premiered at HighTide Festival in Suffolk before transferring to London’s Soho Theatre. She tells Georgia Snow how it felt to watch her debut.
What attracted you to the themes of this play?
Girls is a play about three girls and their friendship. We love in a very unique way, it’s sometimes exhausting but it’s galvanising, it’s powerful, it’s protective. They say it’s harder to break up with your girl friend than it is to break up with your lover. I always start with the people, so with this it was about the girls. That’s what has been at the heart of this process, which has been amazing but difficult at the same time. My friend, the writer Somalia Seaton said to me, ‘it’s like sending your child to school naked with bits of your diary scribed across its body’. That’s the feeling.
What is your history as a writer?
To be honest, I still feel a bit like a fraud. This isn’t the first play I’ve written, but it’s my first produced play. The first play I wrote, I didn’t really know it was a play, it was just for me. I would read it over the phone to my friend and when I’d finished he said I had to show it to someone. Talawa Theatre Company found me and [artistic director] Michael Buffong put that play in a Talawa Firsts show, and I got signed by my agent there. A few months later, I was commissioned to work with Clean Break and Talawa. I make no exaggerations when I say Talawa completely took a chance on me. I had no training or experience or credentials, and there was no one to offer a reference. But Michael believed in me. It took me forever though, probably until the opening night of Girls at HighTide, for me to believe him.
Was theatre part of your life growing up?
Not really, it was quite a new world for me. I did a performing arts A level, but never really went to the theatre. I read loads at school, but beyond the page I knew nothing. My background was academic, so if you tell me to do something, I tend to think of having to reach a certain pass mark, it has to be standardised. Eventually I learned that it is okay to say you don’t know stuff.
Do you feel proud seeing the show on stage?
It has been difficult, taking it into production. I wasn’t prepared for so many voices. Sometimes you do have to compromise and I’m still learning when I should do that. But I sat at the back of Soho Theatre watching the show recently and I was sat behind a few older people, they were Nigerian I think. I sat behind them as they talked, looked at their phones, asked each other what was happening. They sighed loudly, they laughed louder. They were completely relaxed as if they were in their own house, and I was so relieved. This is what this is about, bringing those people to the theatre and making them feel like they belong here and it’s their space. That I do feel proud of.
CV: Theresa Ikoko
First professional play: Girls (2016)
Agent: Ikenna Obiekwe, Independent Talent
Girls runs at the Soho Theatre, London, until October 29