Femi Elufowoju, Jr: Answer The Questions!

I blame 'Jack and the Beanstalk'
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The Independent Culture

Actor and theatre director Femi Elufowoju, Jr, 41, was born in London to Nigerian parents. He has performed at the Royal Court and the National and recorded over 100 radio plays for the BBC. In 1995 he switched to directing and is currently associate director of West Yorkshire Playhouse, where his new version of Medea is about to be staged

Your production of Medea incorporates the Yoruba theatrical traditions of western Nigeria. Has it been a big challenge for the actors?

The process for this particular production has been the most challenging in my entire career as it has involved attempting to transpose to a huge rehearsal room in west Yorkshire, the legacies and idiosyncrasies peculiar to one of the most powerful and influential tribes in Africa. A near impossible task.

At what point in your life did you decide to go into acting?

I was 10 years old when I was picked for the end of year school play. I remember it being Jack and the Beanstalk, and as I was the only black kid in the school, I think my teacher thought it imaginative for me to play the Ogre, or maybe it was because I had a big mouth and I could scream the loudest, I'm still trying to work it out 30 years on. Anyway, it was my first acting stint ever and my mates wouldn't stop talking about my booming roar for weeks, and the rest is history.

Why did you decide to found your theatre company Tiata Fahodzi and what's the significance of the name?

Tiata Fahodzi was founded in 1998 with the sole aim to maintain a qualitative place for culturally diverse work within the present theatrical landscape through the constant exploration of the richness and heritage of African theatre traditions. The name simply translates as "theatre of the emancipated".

At a conference on institutional racism last year, you described an incident in which actors from your company were accused of stealing. Is this a typical example of attitudes in the theatre?

The unfortunate incident occurred three years ago and though the theatre in question claimed at the time that they were acting honourably under very extreme circumstances, I would love to think that the Macpherson report has changed the way in which managers of our theatres now approach sensitive challenges of this sort. I would also love to think that the incident was a one-off, and not a polarised example of how theatres across the spectrum behave. It is a relief, however, to witness in recent times British theatre fast becoming an exemplary yardstick for the world in its approach to embracing writers of colour, imaginative casting and consistent, culturally diverse initiatives. The only thing lagging behind, it seems, is the training and empowerment of more black and Asian theatre directors, administrators and senior managers leading our theatres. I am confident however that this is being addressed as we speak.

What's it like working on Westway, the World Service's favourite soap?

Fantastic! The soap is the toast of the BBC and is reaching more listening audiences worldwide. I am currently involved in an Aids storyline where my character Edward, a Nigerian businessman, is on the brink of marrying a British doctor of Nigerian parentage infected with the HIV virus. Controversial stuff!

You featured in the 1998 Tim Roth vehicle The Legend of 1900. Was that a good experience and would you like to do more film work?

Fabulous experience. I made some life-long friends, worked across three continents and was directed by Oscar-winning Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore. I also had the opportunity of meeting one of my favourite film composers, Ennio Morricone. The job fell into my lap unexpectedly - I was mini-cabbing at the time. I still believe I have a career in film. Which side of the camera? I'm leaving that to providence and the gods.

'Medea': West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0113 213 7272), previewing, opens Wed, to 13 Dec

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