The Lyric Hammersmith theatre is launching its first festival celebrating black talent, culture and creativity, featuring headline performances from the poet Lemn Sissay and the former Noisettes frontwoman Shingai.
For the Culture – Celebrations of Blackness will take place over three days in the new year, with other events including a show by the drag diva Le Gateau Chocolat and a staging of the children’s show Josephine, celebrating the life of Josephine Baker.
The festival, which is curated by Peggy Brunache, the director of the Beniba Centre for Slavery Studies at Glasgow University, Tinuke Craig, artistic associate at the Lyric, and Nicholai La Barrie, the Lyric’s associate director, is a response to the global Black Lives Matter movement that gained momentum in the summer of 2020.
La Barrie, a Mobo fellow and theatre and a film director, told the Guardian there was a “moment of reckoning” after the death of George Floyd.
“Every thinking, feeling human being was reckoning with what our response was going to be to that. We at the Lyric have a space available to us, we have a theatre, and we felt it was our moment to inject some joy and love,” he said.
La Barrie, who took up his post at the Lyric in June, making him one of a small number of senior leaders at British theatres, said he wanted to celebrate the culture and the uniqueness of living in Britain as a black person today.
He said: “How we feel about ourselves, our ancestors, our children. We wanted the weekend to feel like you’re coming to a friend’s house to hear some music, eat some food, have those conversations you have in the kitchen where you put the world to rights.”
Although it has been more than a year since the killing of Floyd, the conversations around racism and equality were no less important than they were then, he added.
“We all saw a man get murdered, and that sparked an emotional response. It gave an opportunity to people of colour to go, ‘look, this is how we feel all the time’. It wasn’t a flash in the pan, it was the beginning of a change in conversations and attitudes.”
The theatre industry, he continued, has made “leaps and bounds” on the issue of diversity but it still had a long way to go. “I’m in my 40s and I’ve spent most of my working life being the one black person in the room. Now, I work with a team at the Lyric and we have every race, creed, gender and pronouns. I’m resident director on Tina the musical in the West End, which has a 90% black cast.”
Certain companies still feel the need to have people of colour visible in their organisation while they only pay lip service to equity, he said.
The festival takes place from 28-30 January, and a full programme will be made available soon.
La Barrie said he would like audiences to take away the message that “our history as people from the African diaspora is not of pain only, but that we are joyful and magical and celebratory, and that when we get together, and we see ourselves reflected in each other, we are greater than we think that we can ever be”.
Sissay said it was “wonderful to see this commitment to honour black creativity and culture and I can’t wait to be part of what promises to be a glorious festival”.