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Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Adrienne Warren on the red carpet at the Olivier Awards 2019 with Mastercard (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Adrienne Warren on the red carpet at the Olivier Awards 2019 with Mastercard (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Learn about the history of Black British Theatre

Kitty Underwood

By Kitty Underwood First Published 18 October 2021, Last Updated 19 October 2021

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve compiled some fantastic links that you can use to learn about various aspects of Black British Theatre over the years. Take some time to look at these free resources and discover plays, actors, writers, directors and campaigners that you might never have heard of before.

Black Plays Archive

The National Theatre’s Black Plays Archive project was initiated by the Kwame Kwei-Armah, who expressed a wish to explore and engage with African, Caribbean and black British writers produced in the UK, a number of which had been largely forgotten.

The aim of the project is to document the first professional production of every play by black British, African and Caribbean writers in the UK. Find a whole host of digital resources here.

Kwame Kwei-Armah and Fin. Photo by Manuel Harlan.Kwame Kwei-Armah. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Online Exhibit: Black Plays At The National Theatre

Looking between 1976 and 2014, this exhibit tells the story of how Black writers and directors have used theatre to explore issues at the heart of society, establishing themselves as a vital part of the National Theatre’s repertoire.

British Library: Black British Theatre 1950–1979

Postwar migration to Britain from Africa and the Caribbean led to the development of black British theatre in the 1950s. In this article, Natasha Bonnelame introduces several of the most important black playwrights of the period, including Errol John and Wole Soyinka and describes the contexts in which their plays were staged.

Raising the Bar: 100 Years of Black British Theatre and Screen

On this BBC Sounds podcast, Lenny Henry presents a series of programmes tracing a century of black British theatre and screen. With episodes on Othello, Black theatre companies, anger and protest on stage and theatrical voices with their roots in Africa, this is a fascinating look at many different aspects of Black British creativity and expetrience.

Lenny Henry backstage at the Olivier Awards 2015. Photo by Matt Humphrey.Lenny Henry backstage at the Olivier Awards 2015. Photo by Matt Humphrey.

History Shows Us the Hidden Pioneers of Black British Theatre

Stephen Bourne’s article for The Stage looks at how and why we don’t know enough about Black creatives in British Theatre, after his NT talk ‘Palimpsest Symposium: A Celebration of Black Women in Theatre’ a few years ago.

Tracing Black America in Black British Theatre from the 1970s

Dr. Michael Pearce’s essay looks at the American Black Power Movement’s impact on British theatre, and the ways that African American culture has been adopted and embraced by Black Britons over the late twentieth century.

Better, Bolder, Further to Go: the Decade in Black British Theatre

This Guardian article looks at Black British Theatre over the 2010s, interviewing eight influential creatives – actor and writer Emma Dennis-Edwards; actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith; stage manager Sylvia Darkwa-Ohemeng; producer and founder of Black Ticket Project, Tobi Kyeremateng; writer Winsome Pinnock; artistic director of the Unicorn theatre, Justin Audibert; writer Jasmine Lee-Jones and actor and former artistic director of Tiata Fahodzi, Lucian Msamati

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Ike Turner). Photo by Manuel Harlan.Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Ike Turner). Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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