Playwright Gabriel Gbadamosi: ‘If some people are not free, then who is?’
Gabriel Gbadamosi is an Irish-Nigerian poet and playwright who is making his London stage debut with Stop and Search at the Arcola Theatre. He tells Susie Browning how the play explores the ways in which we police each other…
Tell me about Stop and Search…
It’s about police tactics that deal with violence, drugs and terrorism. Some people are fearful to move around because of violence. They are not free to participate fully in our society and if some people are not free, then who is? That’s the play’s premise, to explore the volatile, unstable and fearful mindset in our society.
What inspired you to write this play?
I thought about what affects audiences at the moment. Within the past decade we have moved into a digital culture. We have moved into an atmosphere of distrust, surveillance and uncertainty. We are questioning who we are and where we want to go in society.
You also write poetry, does this filter into your new piece?
I am a poet but my love of theatre began with Shakespeare at the Old Vic. I was an actor and that’s how I learned about theatre, but I also learned about it as somebody who really understood, grasped and enjoyed what language can do. Stop and Search uses normal spoken rhythms, no one will think it is a poem but it has the compression, the density and possibilities of poetry. It took three years to write the play. Drop by drop.
What is it like collaborating with the Arcola’s artistic director Mehmet Ergen, who directs the play?
I really admire Mehmet’s energy and his commitment. I taught a generation of Turkish playwrights at the university in Istanbul so I know where he is coming from. The Arcola has cutting-edge work. It’s a place of great excitement. I pity him though, because I have written a piece that is essentially a Cubist play. It’s interlayered with many textures, issues, subjects and styles of theatre. It’s not a piece of naturalism, so it must be quite a challenge for Mehmet to work with this aesthetic.
What has been your biggest career challenge?
As a playwright in Europe I have studied the theatre and the theatre culture of audiences in these countries and attempted to respond to them, and that has always been quite a challenge. I’m not sure that I have always got it right, but I was keen to learn. The biggest challenge is doing this piece because I have now come back to Britain after decades away.
What advice would you give emerging playwrights?
Act. You have got to know how to write and who you are writing for and you have to know what that feels like. A Scottish playwright, and friend of mine, Peter Arnott, describes playwriting as “acting with a pen”. It doesn’t matter where you act – go to your living room with your friends – just learn what the actor does. It’s also about the audience. Theatre in a sense is about what happens between the stage and the audience. So write for your audience.
CV; Gabriel Gbadamosi
Training: BA (hons) English at Cambridge University
First professional role: No Blacks, No Irish. Battersea Arts Centre, London (1987)
Agent: Conville and Walsh
Stop and Search runs at the Arcola Theatre, London, from January 9 to February 9