Tobi King Bakare explores racism, oppression and being working class in his debut play Before I Go.
Recognisable from his roles in I May Destroy You (BBC), and Cursed (Netflix), the actor is flexing his playwriting muscles with his debut.
We spoke to him to find out the why behind the idea …
Please introduce yourself …
Hello friends, I’m Tobi (King Bakare). I’m an actor and writer. I have an unusual background; I was born in Ireland where I stayed during my toddler days, then moved to Nigeria for a couple of years before settling in London. I’m very much a West London boy (Ladbroke Grove to be exact) but I now live in South East London.
Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
Comeee and rescue me, take me out the clubsss…
Tell us about Before I Go
Before I Go is my debut play. It’s a one-man show and in this instance, stars me and is directed by my talented friend Ozioma Ihesiene. Before I Go is lyrical. It jumps in-between verse and prose and fuses live instruments with raw unapologetic poetry.
What’s it about?
Before I Go is about a young man called Ajani. Ajani can talk. He can host parties, talk to girls, charm any living being. However, he finds it hard to express himself to the people he cares about the most. The tolls of patriarchy, systemic racism and working class culture have conditioned him to lock away his emotions. (I promise this isn’t a spoiler but, at the height of his emotional frustration, Ajani dies and finds himself in Limbo. He is told by a mysterious character called Messenger, that the only way to return to the living world is by learning to express himself. Ajani accepts the quest and starts experimenting with different forms. He channels out his emotions to significant figures in his life with hopes of returning to the living world.
What’s your role in Before I Go?
I play Ajani and wrote it too.
How did Before I Go come about?
It started off as a monologue called Mandem. I wrote Mandem because I felt society and media were obscuring the definition of mandem and painting my people in a negative manner. Mandem explores my definition of ‘Mandem’ and highlights the uncontrollable factors that condition young working class people. I shared this monologue at a monologue slam and was blown away by the response.
After that experience, I realised how working-class men were limited by not having the tools to express themselves. Hyper-masculinity, especially in black men, puts us in a box. It’s like if you can’t rap, that’s it… You’ve got to hold all that pain in. I remember being a younger man and losing the ability to cry. I wanted to address that in a play. To show a boy who desperately needs to express himself learning to do it before it’s too late.
Are you satisfied with your career journey thus far?`
Right now, it feels like I’m in a really exciting place. Mixing my writing and acting feels liberating. Before I Go feels like the perfect introduction into the work I’d like to create and how I’d like to continue pushing my craft.
Highs, lows, solutions …
The highest point must have been after the run at Theatre Peckham. We truly didn’t know how the show was going to be received but the people came through and showed love. In all honesty, Before I Go hasn’t given us any serious lows. I’d say juggling producing and performing has been challenging but the support from the team and our super producer Amaarah Roze really eased the load.
What’s your current plan B?
Plan B is work harder on plan A.
What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?
Sad, bills. Mad, increased bills. Glad, Plantain.
What are you watching right now?
Right now I’m watching an Anime called “Blue Lock”. If you know, you know.
What are you reading right now?
Oliver Sacks’, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat.
What are you listening to right now?
Drake – Search and Rescue
The last thing you saw on stage?
Sleepova – Bush Theatre. A banger.
What’s on your bucket list?
Hike on Mount Java
Celebrate someone …
Monique Touko. An amazing director!
Celebrate yourself …
Last year I was fortunate enough to move out and buy a house. By far my biggest achievement. Still doesn’t feel real.
Whose footsteps are you following in?
My career constantly reminds me that we all go on our individual journeys. I can’t say I’m following anyone’s footsteps but I’m definitely inspired by a lot of our local stars. For Before I Go I’ve taken huge inspiration from Arinze Kene and his one man show Misty.
There are a few projects I am super excited about that I unfortunately can’t announce at this moment. However, I can say that the writing and acting combination has only just begun.
Where can we find you?
You can find me on instagram @tobikingbakare
Where can we catch Before I Go?
Before I Go is running from the 20th-22nd of April at Camden People’s Theatre. Find out more here.