SoulPay is a Manchester-based collective of creatives from Nigerian and Ghanaian British descent, who seek to provide, through theatre and the arts, an alternative view of what it’s like growing up African in the UK.
The evening’s performance is set in the Studio Theatre of the Royal Exchange and acts as a showcase of work that’s been in development for approximately 18 months. It’s an ‘all standing’ event that lasts just over an hour. The evening is split into two parts and in the interval we are treated to music provided by The Voice’s very own, Kunmi Ogunsola (Zion).
When I say ‘split into two parts’ it’s really three if you count the later and well-orchestrated ‘Q & A’ session with the performers. The performance consists of several skits, projected onto a large screen. ‘Joy’ our Master of Ceremonies holds the evening together, putting the audience at ease with her laid back yet enthusiastic personality.
The first of the short vignettes to be shown on screen is titled: ‘The Remote’. As soon as the lights dimmed and the supporting music started, I got where this was going – and so did the audience; once the laughter started, it never stopped. This is observational comedy of a high standard (all be it still rough around the edges) and as a vehicle it has a lot of potential. All the ingredients are there. There are smatterings of Caroline Aherne’s The Royle Family, except Jim’s patriarchal figure is replaced by an African/Nigerian female lead. There are also hints of Little Miss Jocelyn (a British TV sketch comedy written by and starring Jocelyn Jee Esien). The sketches that follow include: ‘Frozen Chicken’, ‘Getting ‘B’s’ (exam grades) and ‘Way Passed Curfew’.
Each offers a jaw-dropping insight into parenting (and life) in the UK but with an African flavour. I say African flavour, but these sketches are truly universal – think ‘Goodness Gracious Me’. The immigrant experience has always sought to find a voice through comedy. A Pakistani cast could have delivered these sketches … in 10 years’ time a Chinese cast will be at the Royal Exchange Studio extolling their experiences of first-generation life in the UK. The essence here is the voice and its uniqueness. It’s the same story being told, but for those of African descent you’re seeing actors who look like you; talk like you share the rhythm and the gestures of the tale being told.
In between the laughter, Kunmi Ogunsola (Zion) sings three songs accompanied only by a female guitarist. The songs showcase his undeniable vocal talents – after all he’s being mentored by Sir Tom Jones on the Voice. However, I suspect, the real message being translated here is that his guitarist is female. She is also black. The whole experience felt like watching Tracey Chapman in her pomp.
This leads me on to the ‘Q & A’ session. Normally these focus on influences; challenges and desires for the future. Which is fine. These subjects were covered and covered well. However, this particular ‘Q & A’ focused heavily on the talents of the cast and funding. This cast was simply overburdened with talent. As mentioned earlier, Kunmi is currently on The Voice; he’s also a trained architect. Justina Aina has been an Assistant Producer / Director. There are Chemical Engineers and Nurses who focus on providing therapy for those who suffer from learning difficulties through theatre (Naomi Yeboah). Their starting points all differ but as a collective they are writers, directors, musicians and producers.
With regards to funding and budgets the performers state that their goal when setting up SoulPay, as a collective, was to pool their resources. Rather than each struggle independently to forge their way in this chosen career, they’ve decided to work together thereby providing that much needed network of support.
Their overarching goal is to “…challenge ourselves to contribute to the voice of the Northern Brits of the Diaspora in a big way…” and “working with those whose personalities differ from the norm”.
First Gen – A SoulPay Ting is an excellent initiation into a world less frequently seen on UK television. Their next project is a series of shorts – I for one can’t wait to see what they have in store.★ ★ ★ ★