Theresa Ikoko interview: Following Rocks, I dare any person to tell me these tales usually are not feasible | London Evening Standard

Theresa Ikoko interview: After Rocks, I dare anyone to tell me these stories aren't viable | London Evening Standard


f you want to remind on your own why we spend to sit in darkish rooms with strangers, go and see Rocks. This effervescent coming-of-age tale about the eponymous British-Nigerian teenager and her Hackney schoolmates will make your coronary heart soar and make you proud of this town. At last in cinemas this week after its unique launch day coincided with lockdown, it would have been quick to place it on a streaming platform when all we experienced to entertain us had been our televisions. But the film’s co-author, playwright Theresa Ikoko, wanted young girls of colour to have the possibility to see them selves on the significant monitor. “I felt like it was vital, for the reason that there is a little something about observing yourself 20 foot tall. For so many of us, we haven’t noticed ourselves on tiny screens, let alone large screens. It was vital to say, you are value this huge monitor, you are well worth taking up these areas — these posters, this popcorn.”

Thank God she listens to her voicemail. If she hadn’t, she may in no way have prepared a person of the finest films of the year. Born in Hackney, where by she nevertheless lives, she initial started off writing scenes for performs into blank emails during lull times though functioning at Feltham Young Offenders Institution. With a masters in criminology, she was all established for a profession in criminal justice plan — looking through the scenes above the phone to her pal in the evenings was just for entertaining. But her close friend insisted additional men and women required to hear what she was crafting.

Inevitably they arrived across a free script looking at company from Talawa, the UK’s major black theatre business. Practically nothing happened for 9 months, till she bought a connect with from a landline selection and dismissed it. She then received an electronic mail which she assumed was spam, so she deleted it. Lastly Michael Buffong, Talawa’s creative director, bought as a result of to her on voicemail and reported he wished to put on her debut perform, Typical, which was staged in 2014. “I didn’t know that would form of adjust almost everything. I kept inquiring him throughout the course of action, ‘so, who cancelled? Who dropped out? How did I end up here?’ And he was like, ‘No, you are meant to be here — I imagine in you’.” A afterwards play, Women, a co-manufacturing with Soho Theatre and HighTide, won many awards in 2016.

There is a sunflower upcoming to Ikoko in her flat as we talk around Zoom — it feels apt presented the joy at the heart of Rocks. She had published the story, about a teenager struggling with unforeseen responsibilities (played by outstanding newcomer Bukky Bakray), as a tribute to her sister Tracey. Ikoko is one of 9 siblings and has five sisters — “I experience like this movie has made it truly apparent who my favourite is,” she laughs. Her mum is retired and her father, like Rocks’, has passed absent. “She’s surprisingly rough and powerful in the way that Rocks is, and that so numerous black and brown women are, who have to place on this armour to safeguard and preserve the childhoods of their siblings, in a way that can harden them,” Ikoko suggests. “So it is definitely just an ode to them, to say that beneath the armour, that the bus driver or the instructor or your operate colleagues really don’t see, I see the joy and the appreciate and the unlimited well of advanced softness in you, and I want to say thank you and I like you, that I see you and that is valid and deserving of praise.”

The film’s casting process finished up making its very own neighborhood. The all-feminine innovative staff wished to make a film about British adolescents with young adults — so they went into educational facilities and selected a team of youthful gals, who had no prior performing practical experience, to do workshops with more than the training course of nine months. Authentic friendships started to type amongst the cast, so by the time Ikoko and her co-writer Claire Wilson commenced crafting the script, “we experienced been infected with their magic.” The ensuing film, she says, is “a gift from gals to gals.”

Ikoko no for a longer time believes her tales aren’t feasible — a phrase she’s listened to generally in the market as a cause not to make films like Rocks. She remembers becoming blown absent by a Saturday matinee of the film at Toronto Movie Festival, populated by an aged white audience who beloved the film so much they required to explain to her how it reminded them of their grandchildren, or being a instructor, or the seem of their road when they opened their home windows.

“I’d been confident by the gatekeepers and commissioners that there was no universality in my story, that in get to notify it I had to come across an audience that seemed like me. I’m annoyed at myself that I at any time permitted myself to feel it,” she say. “So now I dare anybody to notify me these stories aren’t practical, because I have obtained ten aged white men and women in Toronto that will convey to you they will view a story about a 15 year previous black children in Hackney.”

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She describes the movie as a “love letter to London” and “not just the Notting Hill parts”. It produced her tear up seeing a scene in which Rocks wander by way of Dalston Current market — not just Dalston, but “my Dalston”. It was the 1st put Ikoko at any time obtained missing as a child, and there it all was on display: the lady acquiring plantain, checking the ripeness of the yam although little ones dance about her.

It is also a likelihood to go beyond conversing about black lives as a monolith, and winner black British society. This is some thing that Ikoko is passionate about and displays on deeply and articulately. She’s happy to be a black British Londoner, loves the amalgamation of languages — white and black good friends weaving pidgin English and patois into their vocabulary — but also feels that the neighborhood is usually still left out of the dialogue about what it means to be British. “A large amount of us are genuinely happy, and it’s the only id we have. My initially time back again in Africa was this yr (she used some of lockdown in Nigeria), so a great deal of us really don’t have a connection to any other black lifestyle outdoors of what we know,” she suggests. “The threads we have sewn into the cloth of Britishness are valid and the photograph of Britain would be incomplete devoid of them.”

She has a good deal coming up for another person who only not too long ago commenced considering of herself as a writer, such as a new enjoy and a few of Television tasks. Her theatre do the job helped open up doorways. While she’s fearful the industry’s recent disaster will affect compact companies that give prospects to “people like me, who pronounce theatre with an ‘f’ as an alternative of a ‘th’”, she’s also hopeful that meaningful discussions are occurring, that “people who are mounting up and speaking up” are getting listened to. ”Whether it be the younger women in Rocks, people like Rachel Delahay, or Sarah Gavron (Rocks’ director) who phase apart and insist on executing items greater. And I maintain that accountability to myself — if we’re heading to go by means of doorways, let’s hold doors open driving us.”

Rocks is launched in cinemas on September 18. UPDATE: Rocks is now out there to watch on Netflix