Playground Theatre will host the premiere of Dream of a King, a one-man play written and performed by Christopher Tajah (directed by Bernie C. Byrnes), depicting Martin Luther King Jr on the night he was assassinated. Tajah’s performance has been hailed as “mesmerising” and “powerful”.
Debuting at the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2019, this simply staged play aims to inform and reveal the man behind the icon, by touching on his early life, relationships, strengths, successes, weaknesses, failures, fears and his world-changing impact.
Many of the issues Luther King Jr fought for all his adult life such as racial equality must still be fought today. Dream of a King gives the audience a unique opportunity to witness King’s passion, inspiration, dedication, philosophy and vision. I asked Tajah about why he chose to portray such an iconic figure, the opportunities available to ethnic minority actors and whether this figure of American civil rights resonates with British audiences.
How did Dream of a King come about?
Dream of a King, came about because I wanted to write a solo stage play to celebrate black culture. I was writing others things at the time but I kept coming back to this play. Then just when I started to write Dream of a King, I met some actors who asked me to write something for them. So we talked through some ideas and I began to write a play for them.
I had completed the first act when I got cast in The RIZEN 1, (The RIZEN 11: The Possession will be out in 2019 but I feature in RIZEN 1) which I was filming on and off for about six months. When I contacted the actors that I was writing for they had all gone their separate ways and didn’t want to know about what I had written for them. So that experience taught me that working on a script for other people can be complicated.
Are there any concerns about playing such an iconic figure who has been portrayed across stage and screen?
There are always concerns about playing any role, you want to get things right, well as right as possible. A line, a look, whatever it is there’s always something to try to get right, that goes for any project. When it comes to portraying an iconic figure then that concern is tenfold, the pressure is ramped up. Martin is one of the greatest men who has ever lived a great humanitarian, a great black man who is known, respected and loved around the world because of what he stood for. I don’t think you could go to any parts of the world and mention his name or show a picture of him and people not point to him with a smile and say ‘Martin Luther King Jr’. As a black man myself that fills me with pride and every time I think about him he lifts my spirits. To have the opportunity to play him on stage is an honour!
There’s been much talk about colour blind casting, specifically BAMER actors playing roles that are traditionally seen as ‘white’ and the recent controversy of a white actor cast as MLK; as a black actor do you feel you have to create opportunities for characters and stories?
) I think it is very important for any artist to find their own unique voice and tell their own unique stories in the way they wish to tell them. Opportunities for employment for any actor is limited at the best of times. More than 90 per cent of actors are out of work most of the time. So I’ll leave it to you to work out the unemployment percentage for actors of colour. You can imagine I’m sure that it is ridiculously high. I would say it is a must for any actor out there to write your ideas down, write stage plays, films, collaborate with friends. Of course, there’s no guarantee of anything but it’ll keep you functioning as a creative artist and you just might find that someone out there likes what you’ve got to say. This industry has a lot of closed doors the question is how to open them up for yourself. You can stand outside ringing the bell and knocking on the door and wait for them to answer it, that may never happen. You could choose to kick the door down. That’ll probably get you arrested and a night in a
Do you think British audiences are drawn to American Civil Rights figures like MLK, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers?
I think Britain is drawn to many facets of America both good and not so good. There’s fast food, music, films, politics, I could go on. We British are as fascinated by them as they are of us. As we can see from the success of Hamilton: The Musical, British audiences have a keen interest to understand the America of 1776 by way of a Hip-Hop soundtrack and I would argue they have an equal interest to understand the rich potent stories of the black Civil Rights organizations and figures of the 1960’s such as the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and Dr King.
Dream of a King premieres at the Playground Theatre 14-18 January 2019 https://theplaygroundtheatre.london/events/dream-of-a-king/
It will also feature as part of Brighton’s Fringe Festival 20-22 May https://www.brightonfringe.org/whats-on/dream-of-a-king-130956/