In Conversation with Theresa Ikoko by Theresa Lola

Theresa Ikoko was born and raised in Hackney, London. Her first full-length play, Normal, debuted as part of Talawa Firsts' 2014 season and was selected for Critical Mass at the Belgrade Theatre. Her first professionally produced play, Girls is a Verity Bargate Award finalist and winner of the Alfred Fagon Award (2015). Her work balances humour and tragedy brilliantly and has a way to represent Nigerian characters in the human complexity deserved.

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Theresa Lola - Theresa what is your writing habit, do you write to music, silence or food?

Theresa Ikoko - I panic before I write so to diffuse the pressure of writing I watch my favourite trash TV. I always have this crisis as I write where I tell myself ‘This is going to be the undoing of me’ ‘this is going to be the worst thing I have ever written’ ‘I won’t be able to spell’ so I have to trick myself into relaxing and having fun.

Theresa Lola - You take wonderful stories about women, there are many stories to tell, including about you, how do you decide which one you have to take to the stage?

Theresa Ikoko - I don’t have some criteria when decided which story to develop into a play, it’s all about which character I fall in love with the most, that’s what happened with GIRLS. I was supposed to writing about something else but I kept thinking about these girls and I wanted to get to know them. 

Theresa Lola - You recently took part in the BBC Drama Room writing programme, what role has writing programmes and workshops played in your growth as a writer?

Theresa Ikoko - With theatre, Critical Mass is a theatre playwriting room I have been in, I got to work with Ola Animashawun, I tackled the things I felt scared of, Ola helped with giving practical skills and it was empowering to be a room with other playwrights that looked like me, you rarely see that. I would say I wrote my first play before at writing workshop, it is good but not essential in succeeding as a writer. For TV, Channel 4 Screenwriters group was useful, it was where I wrote my first screenplay and I credit the programme for giving me that push. It helped me build a network and the people I met here I people I collaborate with today. 

Theresa Lola - Your plays have been acclaimed through reviews and awards, what has been the overwhelming highlight for you so far?

Theresa Ikoko - Oh that comes and goes every day, I still use air quotes when I say I am a writer. Some days I’ll be at channel 4 or Film 4 or National Theatre and I feel like ‘oh wow’ and the next day it feels temporal. Particularly here in the UK where I don’t see a lot of people that look like me in inspirations positions, especially black women, so it makes it hard to hold on to the feeling that I am moving somewhere. What I hope is God willing we will shift the industry and have longevity.

Theresa Lola - Your play Girls showcases you have the ability to swing between tradegy and humour, what do you intend for that to serve in a play? 

Theresa Ikoko - My writing has been described as a mixture of banter and brutality, when I asked my friend about it he said ‘that’s just your personality’, so I guess your personality always comes through in your writing. I feel like pity is a useless emotion because it doesn’t generate anything worthwhile, in my work, joy and love are more active than pity. Also, I grew up in a family that loved to write a lot so that is reflective in my writing.

Theresa Lola - Your plays explore the lives of Nigerians in a complex manner, why is it important for you to weave in stories of different and distinct Nigerian people into your work?

Theresa Ikoko - It’s the complexities of the story that intrigued me. The portrayal of Nigerian Women sometimes is so rudimentary, we are complicated and intriguing humans and we deserve to be represented in that way. I hope that it serves purpose in the future.

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