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Big Aunty (2023), Belgrade Theatre
Corey Campbell (Marcus) in Big Aunty at Belgrade TheatrePhotography Nicola Young

‘Come as you are’: the vital resurgence of Black British theatre

From the West End to the streets of Coventry, these writers and creatives are defining what Black British theatre stands for in 2023

Introducing Horror Nation?, a new season from Dazed about the current state of the UK from the perspective of the young people who live here.

Earlier this March, the Apollo Theatre hosted Ryan Calais Cameron’s play For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy. Having initially premiered at the New Diorama Theatre in 2021, the play is an inspiring and profoundly vulnerable tale of British Blackness and masculinity, in which Cameron presents an image of Black manhood rarely seen amid stereotypical, mainstream roadman portrayals. The show was a resounding success, flooding the theatre hall with a new, young and diverse audience.

Black British theatre has a deep-rooted legacy, stretching as far back as the Windrush generation and emerging as a response to the failed inclusion and representation of Black actors and playwrights within the mainstream scene, with notable works including Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (1957) and Barry Reckord’s Skyvers (1963).

Now, Black British theatre is experiencing a new wave, with a cohort of talented, sparkling playwrights leading the way. “This kind of resurgence – it often happens almost like cycles,” playwright Matilda Feyisayo Ibini, who wrote the hit show Sleepova, tells Dazed. ”Why isn’t it something that becomes just the norm of the British theatre landscape? [...] We keep having these cycles.” This new ‘cycle’ of Black British theatre speaks to a more collective narrative of Britishness and taps into contemporary anxieties: being priced out of all necessities of living, watching our planet rapidly decaying, loneliness and the loss of community and our public spaces.

We need theatre more than ever right now. We need a space to laugh, cry and exist with one another – a space to listen and be heard. Yet, with wider British theatre unable to shake its upper-middle-class, elitist associations, Black British theatre has slowly become a new beacon of hope, ushering in new stories and audiences. It resonates beyond the Black British community, too, offering a space for everyone to freely ”come they are” as we attempt to navigate 21st-century life.

With emerging platforms such as the Black Ticket Project, The Rendition and Poetic Unity actively leading the charge in bridging the financial, social and institutional barriers that have historically barred marginalised groups from accessing theatre, now is the time to challenge theatre‘s image as ‘posh entertainment’. Here, three Black theatremakers explain why the art form is so vital to them.


Through their ‘magical realist’ lens, Ibini champions the unrepresented Black, queer, disabled and gender-expansive voices. Their latest play, Sleepova, took London’s Bush Theatre stage by storm earlier this year. Here, they shed light on theatre’s radical political potential.

“There’s something about bringing people together in the same space and trying to hold them there for the length of the story that I think is incredibly powerful – something about this power, in the directness of human-to-human communication, that theatre is able to emulate that film and TV doesn’t do.

”The only autobiographical play I’ve written, Little Miss Burden, was purely from my experience and point of view, whereas the other plays I’ve written started from a personal place, but I often try to open it up beyond myself and my experience. I think stories are such a great way to do that, as a conduit – like, I know this is a problem that I experience, but is this a problem for other people? How is that similar or different? And can we find connections there? Can we find solidarity? 

“We’re not creating room and space for the next generation of playwrights ... Instead, we’re doing reimaginings of [Shakespeare]. He don’t need the commissioning. He’s not living in a cozzie livs right now. Leave him alone” – Matilda Feyisayo Ibini

“One of the most impactful ways of making change is being able to speak to people in the same room, in the same space. Reading things is helpful and watching things is helpful, but there’s a bit of distance. There’s something about the theatre, the immediacy of it, which means that you’re speaking directly to the minds, bodies, souls, and spirits of the person in real time.

“In spaces like Black British theatre you are encouraged to not just be yourself, but come as yourself, right? In any way or shape or form that takes. I remember had a friend who sometimes felt that her laugh was too loud, and I was like, laugh loud! That laughter needs to come out. You don’t need to feel that you have to quiet down your natural responses to things.

”It almost feels like the fight has got harder. Although change is happening, it’s very slow. But there are companies and individuals that are doing the work. It’s important to acknowledge them, because they’re up against it and probably don’t have the funding they need to reach even more young people. We’re not creating room and space for the next generation of playwrights, to write about the time they’re living in now. Instead, we keep going back or we’re doing reimaginings of [Shakespeare]. He don’t need the commissioning. He’s not living in a cozzie livs right now. Leave him alone. Let’s commission the writers who are alive and well now, to speak about the times now.”

“The current government has tried its hardest to rid the curriculum of arts subjects. Because what do arts subjects teach us? To never take anything at face value. To challenge everything. And a government that wants to exploit its people needs people that don’t challenge anything. So, all the analytical, creative, and even life skills that the creative subjects give, they’re purposefully erasing them because they want a nation that they can exploit a lot easier.

“I want to see Japanese theatre on our stages. I want to see Nigerian epics on our stages. I want to see other countries. Let’s not just speak to what those nations are like now, but also learn about their histories too, because they’re intertwined with our own.”


As a born and raised Brummie, Corey dons the Black Brit staple attire: black puffer jacket, trackies and slides, as he champions a new generation of Black risk-takers to find their “craft outside of the western narrative and Aristotle’s politics”. As Belgrade Theatre’s creative director, and founder and artistic director of Strictly Arts, he talks about investing in the next generation, theatre’s transformative narratives (on and off the stage), and revolution.

“This game was a breath of fresh air for me because we were dodging bullets, genuinely. I’ve been stabbed almost 11 times, so we were coming out of real jungle games, real politics, and coming into this. I’ve suffered police brutality and also gone to the can for things I didn’t do.

“As a working-class young man from Birmingham, I grew up with a lot of racism. I understood structural racism because of my sisters in particular. I’d seen them placed in patriarchal, white, middle-class, male systems – and they’d give me game.

“It’s just a beautiful thing: the arts can spin life round. That’s how I fell into it by accident. I got into theatre through mediation. I was in trouble. And then my guardian angel came and the rest is history. I’m hearing a lot more people with this story.

“When it comes to Black people and art, we’ve always led the way. Art is with us from the beginning of time as a form of communication – we’ve always been artists in our blood. It’s in our blood to tell stories in these ways” – Corey Campbell

”When it comes to Black people and art, we’ve always led the way. Art is with us from the beginning of time as a form of communication – we’ve always been artists in our blood. It’s in our blood to tell stories in these ways. I see the genre violently growing until people have to respect its form and its craft and so it explodes into true diversity and collaboration.”

“I just think we’re frightened that the colonisers aren’t going to accept it as a craft. We still seek to get reviews from them in their stupid papers. I don’t care. I believe that we’re on the verge of creating new, exciting work. But the first step is going to be to do some pretty bad pieces of work while we figure it out. I’m game for that. I’m invested in that, both financially and with the bricks and mortar and with the people that we’re working with – we’re just trying to find some folk who are willing to go on that journey.” 

”We’re not struggling to get those bums on seats. They’re here. The show we did, Big Aunty, got good reviews. You couldn’t get a seat by the end of the run. The work that we’re doing ain’t really struggling in that way.”

“It’s a gradual process, and I think your community needs to know that you’re doing it for them, with them, by them, as long as they know they’re going to be there. And I know my fellow Brummies up the road, they come here because they feel that with us. That’s my gang all day.”

“I thank God that we found this means of expression. He changed all of our lives. It wasn’t just me – there was a whole group of us that have been transported to a different place. I’m just about finding my way through now. I’m surrounded by new people, new energy, and it’s a new journey. But I never forget where we came out off.”


At just 14, Ameena started her journey in production, becoming the youngest (and currently the only) Black woman to produce on the West End. She sheds light on the challenges of working behind the scenes and her desire to depict Black joy.

The Black British experience is not about sadness. I don’t think anyone would categorise it as that. And while there is tragedy in it, that’s not how we grew up. It’s colourful and it’s exciting and there’s tangible culture behind it.

”As a producer who is a woman, who is disabled, who is Black, it’s like, ‘here are the stories you do.’ And there is a point where you realise, why would I want to be making my own trauma and putting it on stage for other people? Then you dig into that and realise that it’s not for your people. So that’s where the problem lies. 

“The Black British experience is not sadness... it’s colourful and it’s exciting” – Ameena Hamid

“The reason why I think it’s important that producing gets more representative is that so many rooms are dictated by the producer or the producing office, and that means I get to work with the nice people that I want to work with – which is great. Equally, being a director or a casting director – the way that you shape a room as a casting director is so important. When we were casting The Wiz, we had people come in and cry because this was the first time they’d seen an audition panel that was all Black. There are so many shows with majority-Black casts on the West End at the moment. The fact that that was true is shocking, but there just isn’t enough representation in casting, and when there is, they move into TV and film because it is better paid. There is also pressure put on me from my white counterparts who are like, you are the beacon of hope, and I’m like, I’m a 22-year-old girl.

“My goal also isn’t just to get more Black people into theatre, it is to get more Black people into theatres. Full stop. Black British theatre isn’t just for Black people, in the same way that all other British theatre isn’t just for white people.”

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