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LAUREN GAUGE asks the writer Joakim Daun and one of the stars of THE INCIDENT, Cassandra Hercules to be candid about their experience of racial prejudice, xenophobia and love.

The Incident is an award-winning theatrical performance written by Swedish playwright Joakim Daun, which asks whether love can keep two people together when the stakes are raised, as well as taking a closer look at who we allow to belong in our societies and what it means to be an ambitious, non-white woman in a mostly white male dominated society.

Intrigued by one of the questions posed in The Incident’s marketing I meet Cassandra Hercules, one of the stars of the production and the writer, Joakim Daun to reflect on his experience of creating the play, and to disclose candidly his understanding of how far people will go to understand people from other cultural backgrounds. Joakim Daun calls it how it is, “it’s easy to say: ‘I’m not like that, I’m not part of the problem.’ My perception is that we often have the urge to be defensive when confronted with these types of issues and I think we can benefit from listening more before trying to respond. With the interactions we have had with the audiences coming to see this play we have seen the need that people have to have more open and honest conversations.”

The play tackles racism and power through an intimate love story spanning Sweden and Zimbabwe, by asking ‘How ‘progressive’ are people really, when they’re confronted with difficult choices?’ Cast as Monica in this pointed two-hander Cassandra Hercules does not struggle with being frank: “we live in an age where it is so easy to surround yourself with people who you perceive to have the same fundamental values as you. How many people in your friendship circle do you have whose fundamental values differ from yours? I think it is very difficult to truly understand and embrace people from other cultural backgrounds that vastly differ from your own. If I’m honest, I think naturally as human beings we are awful at it.”

How does The Incident connect with Hercules’ personal experience? She explicates, “I grew up in a small village in Cambridge and I was the only black person in my school of 500 students for my first year of secondary education. Then I went to University and was the only black person in my year, and as far as I can remember the only black undergraduate student. While racist experiences I encountered during these times were few I remember them. What strikes a chord the most in me with Monica’s story is the fact that covert prejudice I experienced impacted me the hardest. The sense of striving internally to just be me, by not filtering my sense of self through the eyes of a majority who are different.

Prejudice is what inspired Joakim Daun to write The Incident. “I have always been interested in theatre and when I was younger I dreamed about being an actor. Luckily, I was also very passionate about human rights, so I went into a different career. Although, I was always involved in some way or another with theatre it wasn’t until many years that I reached a point where I said to myself ‘it’s now or never.’ So, I quit my job and dove into it,” Daun exclaims. It is working in a different field that has been an inspiration for his writing but also, crucially an income to enable it.

“This play was something I had been thinking about since 2012 when I had a conversation with a Zimbabwean colleague who told me about how she was perceived as a black woman when she first travelled to the U.S. to pursue her master’s studies. Having travelled a lot and been stereotyped a lot it made me reflect over my own upbringing in Sweden. It made me realise how much of our culture and language is biased. I wanted to explore that further through the lens of an intimate love story,” Daun divulges.

The Incident has charmed audiences globally and opens in London’s The Albany to vast arrays of critical and audience acclaim. One radio presenter, Phemelo Motene of Radio 702 in South Africa commented, “it blew me away. I walked away feeling like I needed to be more open, like I needed to interrogate more. The power of this play is that it got me to give room to the ‘other’.” Venues and festivals alike champion the companies work and distinctive identity.

Exploring identity is a theme that resonated strongly with lead actress Cassandra Hercules who plays Monica. She reveals, “I have often felt too non-Caucasian to be fully accepted as British although this is my birth / home country, and is the only place I have really ever lived. On the flip side of this, I have also felt too culturally different from my ethnic and cultural background, to confidently claim the heritage of my grandparents. I feel like I have had to carve my own sense of who I am, and where I am from.” Monica’s central dramatic conflict is striving to exist in a world where she is a problem, and has to justify her very existence, to herself, the people closest to her and most crucially, society. Hercules explains, “Monica eventually reaches a point where she is rejected by everyone and must justify her own existence. She has to embrace the difficulty of carving out her own identity and sense of belonging.”

Daun worked hard to bring together an international and multi-racial team. Co-creator and dramaturg Zoë Guzy-Sprague is Jewish American; actors Cassandra Hercules is black Christian British and David Weiss is white Swedish. The two Co-Directors, Tonderai Munyevu – who is from Zimbabwe, and Arne Pohlmeier – who is German, work regularly with one of the UK’s leading multicultural theatre companies, Tara Arts. Speaking with Hercules I discover what is the most compelling aspect of the play for her. Unsurprisingly as a third-generation migrant born in the UK growing up as a minority it is “race, migration and integration”, but most essentially Hercules continues, “this is a play about the relationship of two people who are deeply in love, and how these issues resonate so deeply within our souls, our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and ultimately our connection with other.”

I enquire about how the working practices of each creative affects and enriches the project through process and performance. Daun replies, “the production has benefited in many ways; the play deals with the ups and downs of migration and belonging and working with artists who have experienced this in different ways has helped to shape the play to where it is today. Of course, it also poses challenges, of working with people that are not always in the same place (geographically) or approach from different angle”, but perhaps the biggest learning point and crux of the production lies on his next thought: “it has been interesting to see that there are different ways to approach a creative process and sometimes you must adapt and make difficult compromises for the sake of the best work overall.”

Daun has written and is producing the production. He claims, “when we first premiered the play at HIFA (an arts festival) in Zimbabwe I felt it was essential to work with local creatives for the play to ring true to a local audience. I had lived in Zimbabwe, so I felt comfortable writing the perspective of someone who is vising the country, but working with a female Zimbabwean director called Elizabeth Zaza Muchemwa was brilliant; that really enriched the play.” The process of writing and self-producing is often the platform emerging artists springboard from but finding the right collaborators has been equally crucial to the development of The Incident. Daun admits, “I never intended to produce the play when I first wrote it, but I didn’t want to sit back and wait for the opportunities to come to me. Instead my dramaturg, Zoë Guzy-Sprague and I decided that the best way to develop the play further was to self-produce because we wanted to try it out in front of an audience.”

Multi-roling as Producer and Writer has been a necessary and fruitful challenge. Daun comments “We work in a collaborative way, where I as a writer have been present in rehearsals and we have changed things as we go along. It has therefore been important try to keep the two roles separate so that people know if they are talking to the writer or the producer.” He continues, “what has been great about producing my own work has been the opportunity to surround myself with people whom I can learn from and that challenge you and the production in a constructive way. If you are only the writer, you might not be invited to rehearsals or have that opportunity. By producing the play, I have also learned a lot as a writer and it has made me a better theatre maker.” However, the process as a writer has not come without its drawbacks: “the downside of having two hats is that it doubles your work and can be very stressful and sometimes I have felt it would have been nice to only focus on the writing,” Daun concedes.

Like many writers he is increasingly conscious of the audience experience and following huge success at Harare International Festival of the Arts, Zimbabwe in 2017 and as part of the main stage program at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa 2018 it opens tonight for its UK premiere. Daun comments: “We make theatre for the audience so I hope they will be moved and have a good time. London is in many ways a very multicultural city, but I still get the feeling that people walk around in their own bubbles of people. I would like people to feel more curious about listening and talking about the issues that the play tackles. While, The Incident portrays two characters in Sweden, I hope that the story will resonate and can inspire London audiences to reflect over their own biases and how their background has shaped how they perceive and treat others.”

#TheIncidentPlay is on at Canada Water Theatre, 21 Surrey Quays Rd, London SE16 7AR as part of The Albany's No Place Like Home Festival from Tuesday 16th October-Friday 19th October at 19:30. Discussions on the themes of the play will take place after the performances on Wednesday 17 and Friday 19 October.
For bookings: 020 8692 4446 / www.thealbany.org.uk | Ticket price: £14 (concessions available)

The Incident then plays at Poplar Union on Sunday 21st October, 15:00
For bookings: 020 3039 3333 / poplarunion.com Ticket price: £9 (concessions available)






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Andrew Olay talks about inspiration, character amd Tom Courtney

Ellie Turner performs with LOVE&MADNESS

Sondheim's Saturday Night with Helena Blackman

Alistair Green directs The Thingumywotsit at The Hen & Chickens

Racky Plews directs Into The Woods

Robert Lloyd Parry is at Baron's Court

Interview with The Umbilical Brothers at The Leicester Square Theatre

Interview with Iain Pears at The Riverside Studios

Interview with Tim Roseman directing Overspill

Interview with Melanie Wilson

Interview with Gillian Plowman, author of Yours Abundantly, From Zimbabwe

Interview with Alex Helfrecht

Interview with Michael Gieleta

Interview with director Rhys Thomas

Interview with writer James Graham

Theatre Student Patricia Low posts her Malaysia Blog

Sabina Arthur performs in Under The Veil

Fin Kennedy talks about UNSTATED

Interview with Andrew Keatley

Interview with Ben Hales

Interview with Ali Taylor

Interview with Matt Ball

Interview with Tim Fountain

Interview with Glyn Maxwell

Interview with writer Coda Quashie

Interview with Sarah Mann

Interview with Yolanda Mpele

Interview with Howard Barker

Interview with Brian Timoney

Interview with Laura Stevens

Interview with John Sandy

Interview with Philly Greenwood

Interview with Dean Stalham

Interview with Jack McNamara

Interview with Caroline Partridge

Meet People Show artist Gareth Brierley

Interview with George Mann

Meet Phillip Brook, star of Uncle Barry at the Blue Elephant

Interview with Fin Kennedy

Interview with James Graham

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown V

Interview with Cath Whitefield, now appearing at The Gate

Interview with Lavern Archer

Royal Court Announces Autumn Season

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown IV

Marketing Managers on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown III

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown II

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

Arcola to Create World's First Carbon Neutral Theatre

Interview with Nell Leyshon, Writer of Glass Eels at the Hampstead Theatre

A New Start for the Southwark Playhouse

The Mark Shenton Show

Theatre has moved on - whatever we critics think

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