Skip to main content

Adura Onashile - HeLa

Adura Onashile didn't know much about science when she read Rebecca
Skloot's book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Despite this,
something in this little known story of the black working class woman
whose stem cells were taken without her permission in 1951 struck a
chord with the actress who first came to prominence when she appeared
in Cora Bissett and Stef Smith's multiple award winning sex-trafficking
drama, Roadkill.

The result was HeLa, Onashile's first solo work, developed with
director Graham Eatough. First seen as part of Edinburgh Science
Festival in 2013, Iron-Oxide Ltd's production went on to an equally
successful Edinburgh Festival Fringe run as part of the Made in
Scotland programme.

Since then, the show has toured to India, Trinidad, Brazil, Jamaica and
South Africa, with several dates in New Zealand forthcoming. Onashile
has also managed to slot in some performances closer to home, and this
weekend plays two nights at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.
Responses to HeLa have been different depending on the sensibilities of
the audience, as Onashile has discovered.

“In places in the Caribbean,” she says, “the focus was whether
Henrietta Lacks would be able to rest in peace, because burial rites
are so important to people there. Then in India it became much more
about ethics. In Scotland and England the issue has always been about
what Henrietta's life was worth in terms of it contributing to medical
progress. When we're in New Zealand, the performance is part of an
event that looks at the nature of science and the arts, and I've been
asked to give a lecture on the nature of truth in art and science.
People always think the truth is very factual in science, but it's only
factual until it's proved wrong.”

As well as Edinburgh, Onashile has  taken HeLa to the British Science
Festival in Birmingham.

“Audiences there recognised that we were pointing out that an injustice
of some sort had been done,” she says, “but they also recognised that
we're not making all of science out to be the bad guy.”

Onashile was born in London, and grew up in Nigeria until she was
eleven, when she returned to the UK. She studied drama at the
progressive Dartington College in Devon, where she explored many of the
multi-disciplinary ideas she works with today.

“That's where a lot of my ideas about freedom in theatre came from,”
she says, “although in England I never felt like they were allowed to
breathe. In Scotland,” she says of the country she now calls home, “the
scene seems to allow for that a lot more.”

HeLa arrives in Edinburgh a week after Exhibit B, Brett Bailey's
controversial contemporary re-imagining of nineteenth century human
zoos, saw its London run at the Barbican cancelled following protests.
Exhibit B was previously seen as part of Edinburgh International
Festival in association with assorted producers, including Iron-Oxide
Ltd.

Having seen the show, Onashile's personal feelings about it are mixed.

“For me, anyone can make whatever art they want,” she says, “but it has
to have a dialogue, which for me Exhibit B lacked. In my mind I don't
know how you marry the experience of someone who was in a human zoo
with someone who picks up a bag and becomes an economic migrant. There
are huge differences there in terms of agency and racial equality. I
spoke to Brett Bailey in Edinburgh, and he couldn't see the controversy
in the way he perhaps does now.”

Beyond HeLa, Onashile plans on developing a new show, Expensive S***,
inspired in part by nightclub toilet attendants, many of whom are of
Nigerian descent.

“I became fascinated by the world they exist in,” Onashile explains.
“They're often without papers, and they aren't paid very well, but work
these six hour shifts every night, having to deal with inebriated
people.”

The show's title is taken from a song by radical Nigerian musician Fela
Kuti.

“Fela was an amazing guy,” according to Onashile. “On one level he was
a revolutionary, but he really fell down in his attitudes to women.”

Onashile plans to set the play in three different places, “Glasgow,
Lagos and these fantasy type toilets at the end of the world. I like
work that uses a lot of different styles, and to look at things that
make me feel uncomfortable, so it means that you can't be on one side
or the other, but can look at all the greys inbetween.”

This is certainly the case with HeLa.

“It's good that audiences who go to HeLa come away knowing who
Henrietta Lack was and what happened to her,” Onashile says. “By
putting her story out there, I'd like the play to be a celebration of
her life.”

HeLa, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, October 3-4.
www.traverse.co.uk

The Herald, October 1st 2014




ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ceildh

Tron Theatre, Glasgow Three stars
One kiss is all it takes for everyone to understand each other in Catriona Lexy Campbell and Mairi Sine Campbell’s new play. Linguistically that is, as ancient and modern are brought to rollickingly intimate life by the Gaelic-based Theatre Gu Leor (Theatre Galore) company in the Tron’s Vic Bar en route to an extensive cross-Scotland tour. The set-up is the sort of ghastly tartan-draped corporate function whose perma-grinning hostess Lisa makes bogus claims of preserving culture while blatantly intent on flogging it off to the highest bidder. Think McWetherspoon by way of Trumpageddon.
With the audience ushered into a cabaret table arrangement by Lisa’s step-daughter Eilidh and serenaded by Eddie’s oh-so-couthy accordion playing, the dirt from Harris is unearthed along with a bottle of David Beckham-branded whisky. This causes the corporate shindig to be disrupted on an epic scale by seventeenth century poet Mairi Ruadh. Which is when both the kissing an…

Pauline Knowles - An Obituary

Pauline Knowles – Actress
Born December 16 1967; died October 17 2018
Pauline Knowles, who has died suddenly of a heart attack aged 50, was one of the most powerful stage actresses of her generation. Over more than twenty years, Knowles brought a quiet intensity and fierce intelligence to every part she played. This was the case when she played the barely articulate rural woman in Philip Howard’s original 1995 Traverse Theatre production of David Harrower’s modern classic, Knives in Hens. It was still the case when Knowles gave a ferociously contemporary portrayal of Clytemnestra in This Restless House, Zinnie Harris’ stunning reinvention of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy directed by Dominic Hill at the Citizens Theatre with the National Theatre of Scotland twenty-one years later.
Knowles occupied both roles with an innate sense of each woman’s everyday ordinariness in ways that made their experiences totally recognisable. As a result, however extreme their actions and however powerful the…

The Duke

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars
Shon Dale-Jones seems like a very nice chap. You can tell from the way he welcomes each member of the audience into the theatre, shaking them by the hand to a soundtrack of energising 1960s feel-good soul. Such a personable approach helps create a warm and intimate atmosphere, so when he sits at a desk with only a laptop, a volume control and us for company, you can’t help but be charmed from the start of this hour-long foray, both into his own fantastical mind as well as the discursive set of first-world contradictions it lets loose into the world.
It begins with a Royal Worcester porcelain figure of the Duke of Wellington on horseback, which Dale-Jones’ dad bought in 1974 for £750. This would make it worth more than £8,000 in today’s money if his mum hadn’t broken it while dusting. This is just one more thing for Dale-Jones to think about as he attempts to apply a script doctor’s ruthless critique onto a film script he’s been working on for a deca…