Talent 2010: The playwright, Bola Agbaje

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The Independent Culture

Last year, Bola Agbaje invited Gordon Brown to come and see her play. It would, she said in her letter, help him understand what makes Britain's young black population tick, get to the bottom of knife crime, take a look inside the head beneath the hoodie. Bold claims for her first ever attempt at a script, but Gone Too Far! lived up to her hype. Fast, furious and very funny, the tale of two brothers – one brought up in London, the other in Nigeria – making their way through their estate to buy a pint of milk, with petty fights and street dancing along the way, had critics lining up to anoint her as the brightest, sparkiest new dramatic voice on the block. Another successful graduate of the Royal Court's young writers' course (along with Polly Stenham), Agbaje picked up an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement, a nomination for Most Promising Playwright at the Evening Standard Awards and the chance to make her debut play into a film.

"I was just trying to figure out who I was, my identity and what I stood for," says Agbaje, aged 28, of her semi-autobiographical breakthrough. She grew up on the notorious, now-demolished North Peckham estate and briefly lived in Nigeria. Her background also indirectly inspired her second play, Detaining Justice, about a Zimbabwean immigrant.

"The next step is film," she says. She's already made a jokey vampire short. But with the eagerly anticipated Off the Endz, starring Ashley Walters, opening at the Royal Court in February, and commissions from Paines Plough and African theatre company Tiata Fahodzi, to work on, Agbaje's voice will continue to be heard in the theatre for a while yet. "People say they're inspired by what I do. I have a responsibility as a role model. If I put something out there, someone needs to learn something from it. Even if it's just one person – that makes a difference in this world."