Tier 3 status knocks out Red Ladder’s tour of My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored

Red Ladder Theatre Company’s artwork for My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored

GONNA tier your playhouse down. Again.

West and South Yorkshire’s impending impediment of Tier 3 status from next Wednesday has put paid to Red Ladder Theatre Company’s December tour.

The Government’s latest Covid-19 restrictions have enforced the postponement – “with great sadness” – of performances of Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s debut play My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored at CAST in Doncaster, Cluntergate Centre in Horbury and The Holbeck social club in Leeds.

Already, earlier tour dates had been postponed at Leeds Playhouse, The Dukes, Lancaster, Grove Hall, South Kirkby, and Oldham Coliseum, having fallen foul of the second national lockdown stretch in November.

Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon says: “While this is the news that none of us wanted, we are incredibly proud of our cast and creative team, company and freelance staff who have worked incredibly hard to create this new play. 

Rehearsing in Covid times: Red Ladder actors Misha Duncan-Barry and Jelani D’Aguilar

“Whether adapting to making this work in a Covid-secure rehearsal room or working remotely, everyone has put an incredible amount of time, passion, dedication and hard work into bringing Nana Kofi-Kufuor’s powerful debut play to life.”

Reflecting on the curse of Covid-19 2020 but looking ahead too, Dixon adds: “More than anything, we wish that circumstances were different and that we were welcoming our audiences on tour of our new production.

“We press on with hope and optimism to bring our show to the stage in 2021 – and Red Ladder stands in solidarity with all our fellow theatre-makers in these difficult times.”

Directed by Leeds actor, director, filmmaker, dramaturg, lecturer and teacher Dermot Daly, My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored would have played CAST, Doncaster, on December 4; Cluntergate Centre, Horbury (Red Ladder Local), December 6, and The Holbeck, Leeds, December 11 with a cast of Jelani D’Aguilar and Misha Duncan-Barry.

The first play by 29-year-old Ghanaian-English writer Nana-Kofi Kufuor is an urgent interrogation of black identity, wherein a question is posed: if you see something you do not agree with, do you intervene?

The cast and creative crew for Red Ladder’s My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored, left to right: artistic director Rod Dixon;, Jelani D’Aguilar (Reece, front row), director Dermot Daly (back row); Misha Duncan-Barry (Gillian) and writer Nana-Kofi Kufuor. Picture: Anthony Robling

What happens if you are a teacher, and the issue is with your student? What happens if you are outside of work and you see them being stopped and searched and manhandled by the police? Do you run over and stop the act, or do you watch, waiting to find out all the facts?

This is the case for Gillian Akwasi, a black twenty-something teacher who witnesses her student, Reece Ofori, 15, being accosted by the police outside M&S but does not question or intervene in the disturbing scene that plays out. The next day, Reece confronts her, locking them both in her classroom at the end of the school day.

For his writing, Kufuor draws influence from his experiences when growing up in Stockport with Ghanaian parents and then working in education with young people from a range of backgrounds.

Revealing the real-life situation that inspired his hard-hitting drama, Kufuor explains: “Working at a Pupil Referral Unit, I once had a student try to take a knife to stab another student. Once I’d calmed him down, we sat in the canteen and he explained to me he wasn’t going to go quietly.

“The police were outside and they took him. I saw him a few weeks later, and he asked why I didn’t help him? That rush of guilt changed to anger and quickly to sympathy as he saw me as his protector.

Red Ladder cast members Misha-Duncan Barry and Jelani D’Aguilar in rehearsal. Picture: Anthony Robling

“But I knew I couldn’t do anything. The crux of this play is how two people react to the same situation: they go on a journey; a journey a lot of people of colour go on – a realisation that where you are now isn’t necessarily where you come from.”   

My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored was developed as part of a year-long writing commission for Box Of Tricks and staged as a rehearsed reading at HOME, Manchester, in January 2020, where it was seen by Red Ladder’s Rod Dixon.

For five decades, Red Ladder has produced new writing by voices whose work often is unheard on our stages, and the Leeds touring theatre company has been thrilled to develop Kufuor’s play for its first tour.

Ahead of the now-postponed tour, Dixon said: “We’re very excited to be working with Nana-Kofi Kufuor. This important play addresses key issues about race and identity at a time when society needs to heal division and strife.

“We’ve brought together a fantastic creative team, including director Dermot Daly, and look forward to taking this new work on tour and welcoming back audiences in theatres and community venues in a safe way.”

Roll on that day.

Playwright Nana-Kofi Kufuor. Picture: Emma Bailey

Who is Nana-Kofi Kufuor?

NANA-KOFI Kufuor – or Kofi Kufuor, as he goes by to friends and family – is a 29-year-old Ghanaian-English writer from Stockport, North West England.

He attended the University of Cumbria, attaining a BA Hons in film and television production in 2014 and a master’s degree in screenwriting in film, television and radio in 2018.

Kofi won a BBC 1xtra monologue prize in 2017 and was shortlisted for the Theatre Uncut political playwriting prize in 2019.

He was attached to Box Of Tricks’ year-long writers’ commission, PlayBox Takeover, in 2019 that culminated in a reading of his play My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored at HOME, Manchester in January 2020.

Kofi is now working on a television project and focusing on writing two other plays before the year is out. Over this summer, he worked with Northern Broadsides on a lockdown project that was filmed and shown on the Halifax company’s as part of a collection of short plays. Kofi is a supported artist at Oldham Coliseum.