Nana-Kofi Kufuor discusses his debut play My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored
Fair play to Nana-Kofi Kufuor who has decided to take on an interrogation of black identify in modern Britain for his debut play.
My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored began life during a year-long writing commission for Manchester based Box of Tricks. Misha Duncan-Barry is teacher Gillian who finds herself in a tricky situation with student Reece played by Jelani D’Augilar.
“It sounds a bit heavy, but to me the themes are race, gender, black masculinity black femininity, toxic masculinity” says Nana-Kofi. “It’s a two hander about a teacher and student, both black, and she sees the student stopped and searched outside of work.
“He calls for her to help, and she doesn’t, so the next day with all this pent-up range and anger he goes to confront her. He says ‘you know what, you’ve even not worth it’ and she says you know what actually I stopped you, so he locks the classroom door, and they basically role play the whole situation and scenarios from throughout their lives.
“He’s trying to say she’s not black, and she’s trying to say she is black, and it all culminates in one big final act.”
The 29-year-old’s debut is partly based on his experiences growing up in Stockport with Ghanaian parents, and a serious incident that happened during his time working with young people.
“I worked in a PRU, which is a Pupil Referral Unit, where students have been expelled from mainstream education go, and for the record they are all amazing kids. I had a student who had an argument with another student, ran away and got a knife to stab the student.
“I managed to get the knife off him, so we were sat in the canteen, and they’d evacuated the whole college at this point, he kept telling me he wasn’t going without a fight as the police were outside. The police came in and took him away, and a few days later he came back.
“We had a conversation where he said why didn’t you help me, why didn’t you stop them? It took a while for me to realise his reasoning was different to mine, so I didn’t think either of us was necessarily in the wrong, and this play is a heightened version of that.”
That dilemma that Kufuor faced – and often faced by other people who see incidents where young people are stopped in the street – is at the heart of this play as he considers who has power or agency if they do decide to intervene.
“At that point I didn’t feel I had the power to deescalate it as I was more like student support,” recalls Kufuor. “That is a recurring theme in this play as they both want power over each other like a tennis match going back and forth, so no-one really has the power for too long.
“It’s the backstory of their relationship which gives you the context of why she didn’t intervene. I hope when you come away you ask: was she right in not intervening, as their relationship previously goes a way to explain why she didn’t. At the same time the play breaks down, why should she? I think you come out with your own opinion on that.”
This year has seen a worldwide backlash against racism driven by the Black Lives Matters, and sickening incidents of brutality beamed across the globe, but Kufuor says this new work was completed before those seismic events.
“There’s no mention of BLM or George Floyd in this play as it was written before that, and I didn’t want it to look reactionary as I feel that could take out some of the power and onus from it. I love Black Lives Matters as it is one of best movements I’ll ever see in my life because it’s started conversations we weren’t willing to have. It’s important that we understand the situations around us, why they happen, and people keep getting away with it.
“But I don’t want people to think it was in response to that because we tend to sometimes forget that this country isn’t great when it comes to race relations.”
Kufuor credits Box Of Trick’s Hannah Tyrell-Pinder and Adam Quayle for their support and challenging him during his year with them. That led to a reading at Manchester’s Home where Red Ladder’s artistic director Rod Dixon picked the play up for a tour directed by Dermot Daly that has been interrupted by the various lockdowns.
“Rod is 100% on it and we could not be more similar. He’s anti-establishment, he loves grassroots stories and wants diversity in theatre, and I can tell he has been that way since he started, We instantly connected, he saw the play at the reading and said I want it. There are so many things we can do with it so let me have it.”
My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored opens at Cast Doncaster on 4th December before touring to the Cluntergate Centre, Horbury 6th December and Holbeck Leeds on 11th December as part of Red Ladder Local.