An interview with the Artistic Director of Utopia Theatre

By Eve Allin, Bedales Events Programme Coordinator

Utopia Theatre‘s production Here’s What She Said to Me is on tour in the South East and East England in February 2022, and comes to Bedales Theatre on 8 February (book tickets here). Before they hit the road, we had five minutes with the play’s creator, Mojisola Elufowoju.

Where did the inspiration for Here’s What She Said to Me come from?
Here’s What She Said to Me is deeply rooted in true events. It was first born out of conversations between me and my daughter. We realised how little communication we would share around certain areas of our lives, that this selective silence was something I had in turn experienced with my own mother and that by not learning from one another’s challenges, mistakes and trauma we are unable to create new paths for the next generation. To break this silence, I went on to tell my story and that of the women in my family to playwright Oladipo Agboluaje.

What can audiences expect from Here’s What She Said to Me?
A family saga that begins in Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1957, three years before the nation’s independence. We see three actors travelling between Nigeria and the UK through the next six decades and playing women down the generations, switching fluidly from direct address to dialogue, from English to Yoruba, and incorporating dance, song and mime in thrilling ways and switching between a panoply of family members around them – from inspiring grandmothers and stern husbands to spirited daughters whose confidence and hope, as girls, is yet unbroken. Oladipo Agboluaje’s script captures the women’s romances, achievements and dashed hopes.

How has the rehearsal process been? 

The cast and creative team have had a busy few weeks preparing for the tour. Whilst Here’s What She Said to Me has been performed before, the cast for the tour are new to the show and Mojisola is working collaboratively with them, Musical Director Juwon Ogungbe and Movement Directors Lati Saka and Maria Cassar to create this newest version of the story. Actor Anni Domingo described the process as “hard work but a lot of fun – there are quite a lot of elements to the play so we have been singing, learning songs, movement and, of course, acting. We’ve been given a lot of freedom to find our different characters.” 

What first drew you to becoming a theatre director and founding your own theatre company? 

I’ve had a passion for theatre from a very young age. Having gone to drama school and performed in a few plays, I realised that I am not in favour of the limelight and most importantly, I don’t like learning lines. Directing seems to be the next best option. 

I set up Utopia Theatre in 2012. The vision for setting up the company came from the need to see representation on stage, and to see a different kind of work produced. It was a vision and commitment to see myself on stage. I began making work with some of the people I graduated with. This began a journey towards a series of partnerships and opportunities. 

What legacy would you like the production to have on the venues and audiences? 

We hope that audiences who have not previously had the opportunity to experience African theatre will enjoy the rich forms of storytelling and music and be encouraged to engage further with African performance and arts. For those who will relate to the story of mothers, migration and intergenerational challenges, we hope it starts a conversation that may have not been addressed before. It is a heartfelt and humbling story brought to life on an almost bare stage. An experience of total theatre where music and movement become metabolised within the story.