Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu is the winner of the 2019 JMK Award.
This means he gets the chance to direct a production of a large-scale Orange Tree show. A deserved win, for the young theatre-maker whose credits include Melanin Box Festival (Theatre Peckham), Timbuktu (Theatre Royal Stratford East). He was also Associate Director of The Brothers Size (Young Vic) and if that wasn’t enough Tristan is an Associate Creative of Initiative.dkf. But, we’re here to talk about his latest project …
I am Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu and I am the writer and director of the theatre production Sweet Like Chocolate Boy
The production is currently on a UK tour after a very successful run last November which received critical acclaim were you expecting it to be such a huge success?
To be honest, I did not know what I was expecting. I knew it was a very jam-packed piece that different factions of London would pick to enjoy. But I really did not expect to sell out for my first 3 week run of a show ever.
The themes explored included mental health, faith, racism, police brutality and more, how were you able to touch on so many subject matters with such precision and flow?
I think I touched on so many subject matters because those matters are intrinsically seasoning the melting pot of being “Black British”. The piece aims to explore that in a way that delves but not dwells in each layer of that term. The piece, in itself – had the feel like liquid chocolate. So I guess that is where the flow comes in.
The play is named after your favourite song, the UK Garage classic by Shanks and Bigfoot, why did you choose to name it after the song, what elements or lyrics of the song (if any) inspired the themes you explored?
Firstly, I had been waiting for time for the musician Shakka to do his old school acapella (aptly called Shakkapellas ) on it. Secondly, even though the song is more about a romance, I always felt the song highlighted the beauty of our blackness but also how desperately people want to digest us. That idea of us being food before human is a theme I wanted to explore.
There are just four actors who play a multitude of characters, what made you choose to arrange it in this way?
In short, money. There are almost 14 characters so the budget would have gone into at least 50k. However, as a theatremaker, I am very interested in the form of storytelling that explores multi-rolling, direct address and the body in a black space making our imaginations work. This was the perfect opp.
Michael Fatogun from the original cast is back but you’ve also cast some new faces, have the dynamics changed at all?
Michael’s ‘Bounty‘ was so unique and I thoroughly enjoy unique performers. With this new cast, I decided to explore new versions and work in a more collaborative, devised process in order to not be drowning in my own vision. Bernard Mensah, Jade Hackett and Alice Fofana have been incredible, versatile and soulful performers to work with. All I can say is come again as it is a very different show!
You won the 2019 JMK Award and will produce Arinze Kene’s award-winning 2011 play Little Baby Jesus at The Orange Tree Theatre, firstly congratulations, what direction do you plan on taking?
Listen, that play. Mate. That play taught me so many things about my teenage self. In particular, not to judge my peers too deep and that the way I speak is innately poetic and beautiful and deserves to be heard. Whatever I decide to do, I wanna make sure you feel that.
Your recent successes are of no surprise you have worked quite extensively in theatre since leaving university, what is the one thing that has driven you to create and push boundaries?
I just want to, first and foremost, excite myself. If I don’t think it’s exciting, why am I doing it? It must come from my soul I guess. Then it’s about just seeing if you vibe with it.
If there was any other genre of music or a specific song that could inspire you to write another play, what would it be and what would the story explore?
I think a mash-up of R&B, choirs and classical music exploring the life of the Duke in the GCSE poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning
Stormzy did a cover of Sweet Like Chocolate for BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and Tulisa formerly of N-Dubz also remixed the song which featured Akelle from Wstrn, which was your favourite cover?
Nothing beats the original. But I just love the sheer heart of Stormzy’s.
After an amazing successful UK tour, the cast of Sweet Like Chocolate will take to the stage with their final performance at The Lowry, Salford on the 7th September.
The first major revival of Arinzé Kene’s Little Baby Jesus directed by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu will run from 18th October-16th November at The Orange Tree Theatre. Find out more and book tickets here.