“Are black people often playing petty criminals? Are women always playing the love interest or talking about men? Are gay people always stereotyped? Are disabled people hardly ever seen?… I don’t think of myself as just a ‘black actor’. I’m an actor, not a number.” Idris Elba, The House of Commons, January 2016
bricks and pieces started as a call to arms for better writing for black Britons: for challenging roles that are both complex and diverse, for characters not defined by their diversity but by their humanity, for productions where an actor doesn’t need to be ‘colour-blind cast’ in order to play the everyman.
The outcome is a thoughtful portrait, by the award-winning Charlene James, about family and fresh starts that enjoys cultural specificity – ‘Don’t bring all that back home bullshit into this’ says Gabe – but isn’t limited by it. Our characters struggle to survive as well as being black, not because they are black. And that – sadly – is a political act. I bet you won’t notice the gesture, not because you don’t see colour but because bricks and pieces looks and sounds like the people you know, living similar lives to you.
We at tiata fahodzi are committed to making sure that the fiction inspired by life is as complex and diverse as real life. We refuse to oversimplify the African diaspora and, instead, relish in the complexities and all the different versions of being a British African, creating multiple narratives. In bricks and pieces, we are a gay – but not fully out – teacher grieving a partner, we’re a young woman launching a start-up and a new single life, we’re exploring Christianity and chatting up girls, we’re into hip-hop and geeking out over Lego, we’re all of that and so much more.
As the director of this world premiere, I’m delighted that we’re able to play our part in facilitating the present and future of British theatre to be the best – and all – they can be. Our protagonist Mya takes inspiration from ‘badass women’ from history and we’ve taken daily inspiration from one of the baddest of those badass women in celebrating being young, gifted and black.
natalie ibu is the artistic director / ceo of tiata fahodzi and the director of bricks and pieces.