TBB Talks … Jack and the Beanstalk With Emmanuel Akwafo

Emmanuel has taken on one of the most important roles in any Pantomime, The Dame in the Lyric Hammersmith’s Jack And The Beanstalk

The highly anticipated pantomime is written by Jude Christian and Sonia Jalaly. Playing Dame Trott, Akwafo helps Jack played by Leah St Luce as they battle giants and thorny baddies in hopes of bringing ‘glory glory’ back to Hammersmith.

Emmanuel’s theatre credits include: For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy (Royal Court Theatre/ New Diorama); Whisper Me (Dugdale Theatre); The Bald Soprano (Leicester Square Theatre) and The Spalding Suite (Southbank Centre).

We spoke to Emmanuel about all things Panto, For Black Boys and what he hopes to achieve in his career …

Please introduce yourself …

My name is Emmanuel Akwafo I am a British actor from London born to Ghanaian and Swiss parents

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …

Transformative

I can’t speak to you without mentioning the cultural milestone that was For Black Boys That Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy. What did it mean to you to be part of this show?

To be a part of something so powerful was life-changing. It was a saving grace I never knew I needed. It was one of those moments in life when you step back and think you are doing what you were created to do. To tell the most beautiful and necessary story and to be able to touch and change lives. The show was an out-of-body experience. I am so grateful to God and to Ryan Calais Cameron and his team that I was able to be a part of history. This show pulled me out of a very dark time in my life. And I literally have no words to say how grateful I am.

For Black Boys That Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy @RoyalCourt

With For Black Boys…, you had your debut performance at the Royal Court and won The Stage Debut Award 2022 for Best Performer in a Play, alongside the rest of the cast. Do you feel like being part of For Black Boys… has marked a turning point in your career?

Absolutely it’s opened doors and opportunities for me that I have never had before. Even for young black boys who look like me. It’s given them faith that if six black boys from ends can make it to the west end of London and win an award, then there’s actually hope for us all in this industry and maybe have a decent career path.

This winter, you’ll be taking to the stage in a very different show to For Black Boys… as you perform the part of Dame Trott in the Lyric Hammersmith’s pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. When did you first see a pantomime and what pantomime was it?

My first ever pantomime was Dick Whittington in 2013 at Stratford East Theatre.

Jack and the Beanstalk is a story we all know and love – can the audience expect any twists to this classic story in this Lyric Hammersmith pantomime?

What’s a pantomime without a couple of twists! This version really tells the truth about what we are all feeling at the moment with this cost of living crisis, how far we will go to help others and what is actually the right thing to do when you’re not thinking about your moral compass. This is literally a love letter to Hammersmith to remind them not to lose faith and to remember that the community has got their back.

Emmanuel Akwafo as Dame Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk @LyricHammersmith – Image: Helen Murray

Playing a pantomime dame is markedly different from your role in For Black Boys… – how have you gone about preparing to play this role? And, from your perspective, are there similarities between playing a pantomime dame and previous roles you’ve undertaken?

If anything playing a dame has pushed my acting ability to another level, to be able to break the fourth wall and talk and ad-lib lines with the audience has been amazing. There are definitely no similarities to For Black Boys, however, this role has challenged me to do something I would not normally do.

The history of iconic pantomime dames is mostly dominated by white men – have you drawn upon any Black performers for inspiration when developing the characterisation of Dame Trott?

All my inspirations have been from black actors from Tyler Perry playing Madea, Jamie Foxx playing Wanda on In Living Color, to Martin Lawrence playingSshanaynay – all great actors and comedians playing roles they never thought they would.

For Black Boys… was a hugely important play that really resounded with the Black community. How do you hope audiences respond to Jack and the Beanstalk?

Pantomime has always been dominated by white performers and if they’re not, then they are a side character or celebrity. I want young black and brown people to be inspired and see their faces also up on the stage as the main character. It’s time to break traditional casting and really shake things up.

Jack and the Beanstalk @LyricHammersmith – Image: Helen Murray

Have you got any other projects on the horizon you want to talk about?

All I can say is God is making moves in my life.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?

What’s made me sad is funding for the arts I feel like a lot of actors of colour are not getting paid what they should.

What are you watching right now?

Christmas movies.

What are you reading right now?

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara.

What are you listening to right now?

An Ella Fitzgerald Christmas playlist.

The last thing you saw on stage?

Things I Can Laugh About Now, Shakira Newton.

What’s on your bucket list?

To be in a blockbuster movie. (I still believe Black Panther is awaking a plus-size superhero)

Celebrate someone else (who do you rate right now?)

I got a list!

Selorm Adonu
Selina Jones
Emma Bakare
Rosemarie Akwafo
Shakira Newton
Coco Sarel
Leah St Luce
Jamal Franklin
Toyan Thomas-Browne
Montel Douglas
My for black boys cast!

Listen, The world ain’t ready for the talent they are sleeping on!

Celebrate yourself … (make us proud of you)

I am so proud to be a BLACK…queer…plus size.. dyslexic.. actor! Who shows the world nothing can hold them back! You can’t put me in a box and you can’t market my talent. God created me for one reason and I truly believe I am fulfilling it.

Where can we find you?

@eman.akwafo .On all my social.


Jack And The Beanstalk run at the Lyric Hammersmith until Saturday 7th January 2023.

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