Poet Nick Makoha spoke to Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon about his new piece The Dark which plays at the Ovalhouse until 1 December 2018.
Hi Nick, thanks for talking to me. What can audiences expect from The Dark?
I hope the audience will see an interesting way of sharing the immigrant story. There are no poems in the piece but I use poetic language. Poetry and theatre are an interesting cocktail. Usually, the immigrant story is put under the spotlight of journalism and history and depending on what part of the world you are from there is a political bias. I wanted to take that story away from such bias and instead elevate the story to art. The artistic inquiry was into my own personal story.
How did the concept of the show come about?
While I was putting the manuscript together for my poetry collection the Kingdom of Gravity, I kept being asked, what’s next? Each poem in the collection has its own personal narrative. The poem ‘Stone’ is the beginning of my mother’s narrative. It speaks of our exodus from Uganda. Every time I read that poem people would want to know the story behind the story. A few years ago Spread The Word and Ovalhouse approached me and a few other artists. They wanted us to present a ten minute scratch of an idea. I presented two scenes as part of that scratch. The response was very positive.
Fuel Theatre came on board, Ovalhouse has shown continual support and Roy Alexander Weise showed great enthusiasm even with the early drafts of the script. We spent a whole week in a studio just mapping the night my mother decided to smuggle me out of the country. It was important in the telling that this story was not just seen through a child’s eyes. What was noticeable in that first week was the narratives of the women. In what they said and in what they did not say they carried the story forward.
Were there any challenges in what you wanted to say in the show or how you wanted to communicate it to audiences?
A writers’ continual challenge is to avoid cliché and sentimentality, that is the tightrope of the craft. I also wanted to tell a story that was not to weighted in the male experience and with western world viewpoint. The challenge was to honour the female voices that kept speaking out. In all the developing process our director insisted that no decision was made without a woman present and without their opinion heard voiced and actioned. I think I have been lucky in that all of my creative partnerships have been women strong. But Roy made me aware that we cannot take that luxury for granted.
What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show? I hope they take away a broader world view and a story that activates our humanity. I also hope it gives a platform for people to share their stories of otherness. This play is important to me at it is semi-autobiographical but more importantly the narrative is one of strong Black women.
How would you describe The Dark? It is a two-hander theatre play fusing poetry and theatre to tell the story of how my mother smuggled me out of Uganda during the Idi Amin war. She smuggles me out on a matatu (mini-bus). It shares similarities to Homer’s Odyssey. The obvious parallel are fall of Troy and the crumbling of the crumbling of the Amin dictatorship. My mother is the equivalent of the hero Odysseus the matatu is her ship; both The Dark and the Odyssey are poetic works.
By Emma Clarendon
The Dark will play at the Ovalhouse Theatre until the 1 December 2018.