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Creative Matters: Black British Identity

© Bill Cooper

What does it mean to be black and British? That is the question being explored in a series of workshops and events being held across Norwich during October 2018.

Linking in with Black History Month, the new Creative Matters season will combine comedy, films, dance and discussions to reflect and give an insight into ethnic and cultural identity.

Held across Norwich Theatre Royal, Norwich Playhouse and Stage Two, it aims to stimulate discussion and make connections through creativity in a safe space.

Hair whether long, short, wavy or in braids is the focus of The Head Wrap Diaries in Stage Two on Friday October 5 at 7.30pm. Presented by Uchenna Dance, it blends the club dance styles of House, Waacking and Vogue with African and contemporary. Stylists Linda and Riyah will take the audience on a journey exploring community, heritage, womanhood, friendship and most importantly hair. This will also be followed by a free post-show Head Wrap Bar where you can meet the cast and share experiences of different ways of tie-ing head-wraps.

On Wednesday 10 October, there is the chance to follow the story of parts of the black community in this country with a free film screening entitled Britain On Film: Black Britain. Bringing together films spanning 1901 to 1985 shot in different regions across the country, it will give a window into some rarely-seen views of day-to-day life among the community while also reflecting a century of vast and turbulent social change. Migration, community and the struggle against inequality are all examined.

Norwich-based comedian Nelson T Gombakomba Jr is then in the spotlight on Friday October 12 at Stage Two as he hosts an evening of comedy, spoken word music and debate celebrating black consciousness. He has entertained audiences at London’s Comedy Store and Top Secret Comedy Club, and was also the runner-up in the 2017 New Piccadilly New Comedian Of The Year competition.

There is also a free film showing of Belle on Thursday 18 October. The PG-certificate movie tells the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay who has to grapple with the pressures of nobility and finding love in a very white upper-class society. Released in 2013, the film boasts a strong cast including Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson and Penelope Wilton.

The cult of music, fashion and cultural icon Grace Jones is mixed with a story of prejudice and revolution in Nightclubbing at Norwich Playhouse on October 23 at 7.30pm. Three women are refused entry to a late night venue and embark on an intergalactic quest to show women, the LGBT community and people of colour should be at the forefront of life.

This explosive show mixes the intense energy of the musical star Grace Jones’ compositions with a surreal and exciting story of black identity and power.

The performance season then ends on Thursday October 25 with Ballet Black. The company celebrates performers of black and Asian descent showcasing their techniques, precision and grace in some specially created pieces.

Being performed at Norwich Theatre Royal, the double bill begins with a new piece created by British choreographer Cathy Marston and based on Can Themba’s moving fable The Suit which chronicles the impact an affair has on a couple living in a Johannesburg suburb in the 1950s.

Completing the programme is Arthur Pita’s Olivier-nominated A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This mixes the classical and contemporary to highlight the core and style of Shakespeare’s comedy mixing sounds by the likes of Eartha Kit and Barbra Streisand.

Across the month, Stage Two will also be hosting an exhibition of work by the photographer James Bell. It will follow his journey as a photographer investigating Afro Caribbean identity while also looking at Britain’s relationship with West Africa and the Caribbean.

The season will give a clear insight into the nature of the black community and its challenges, creativity and culture. Nelson T Gombakomba Jr said: “Black History Month is important to me because it’s a time of the year when black culture is promoted and celebrated which brings all people together as it is everyone’s story. To celebrate black history is to celebrate all history, and Creative Matters will aim to both reaffirm and criticise this idea through debate, comedy, music and other thought provoking forms of expression. The least we can promise is that you will be entertained, but if you can learn something as well, then that is a bonus.”

Sam Patel, Norwich Theatre Royal’s community participation manager, added: “We have worked hard to provide a range of different experiences. Whether it is the beauty of dance, the cultural impact of head wraps, the power of Grace Jones’ music or the historic story of the black community’s impact on British life, we aim to reflect a range of perspectives and views during this season.”

Creative Matters happens several times a year and sees Norwich Theatre Royal, Playhouse and Stage Two examine a range of topical issues within safe spaces. Previous areas which have been featured include gender identity and men’s mental health.