Nottingham-based writer Mufaro Makubika won the Alfred Fagon Award for his new play before it was even staged. Here he tells us about writing Shebeen and being inspired by the St Ann’s community he lives in.
The play is about a Jamaican immigrant couple, Pearl and George. They live in St Ann’s and run an illegal bar in their home, a shebeen. During a party an act of violence changes their lives forever.
The name Shebeen derives from an Irish word for ‘illicit whiskey’. It’s a house, usually someone’s home, set up as an illegal bar to sell illicit alcohol and a place for people to gather. From its origins the shebeen has spread far and close, the English-speaking Caribbean, Southern Africa and here in Nottingham.
I wanted to write a play about a specific people in a specific place at a specific time. I knew St Ann’s, Nottingham and its community would be my starting point. It’s a community I’ve come to call home and its stories are as beautiful and complex as you’ll find anywhere. This theatre – Nottingham Playhouse – is here for these stories to be told. If I can, I’ll tell them.
It’s a great and humbling honour to get the Alfred Fagon Award for Shebeen. The award is there to promote new writing by playwrights of African and Caribbean descent and that makes it a special prize to be awarded. Ultimately, however, what’s most important to me is the work.
I was inspired by the history of the race riots. In August 1958, in the district around the St Ann’s Wells Road, tensions arose between the black and white populations resulting in ‘riots’ over a number of weeks. Alarmed, Norman Manley, then Premier of Jamaica and Dr Carl La Corberniere, then Deputy Prime Minister of the West Indies, visited Nottingham to reassure the Windrush generation and their children that they were welcome. These riots preceded the more widely known Notting Hill Riots.
Though it is inspired by true events, Shebeen is a work of fiction. Like the big American 20th century plays by Arthur Miller, August Wilson and Eugene O’Neill, it is set in a familiar space and explores big ideas such as dreams, ambitions, trust and violence. Everyone understands what it means to have a dream. Shebeen’s a play about how we relate to each other and how that’s linked to our individual dreams for the future. It feels like we are having a lot of difficulty relating to each other now.
This theatre and many other such public buildings belong to the communities they serve. The diversity of this community must be reflected in the whole organisation and not just what we see on the stage, it’s essential. Shebeen was written in Nottingham for Nottingham. Having the play premiered in Nottingham is all I could have hoped for.
Shebeen runs from Fri 1 – Sat 16 June 2018. BOOK HERE