TBB Talks … Message in The Clay River with Playwright Mo Korede

Mo Korede is a playwright and the Artistic Director of Imagiphoria Studios which concentrates on character explorations and psychological realism.

Korede is a playwright and the Artistic Director of Imagiphoria Studios which concentrates on character explorations and psychological realism and has written and worked on shows in various capacities at Imagiphoria including directing and starring in shows like Aso, Look at Your Palm and more.

His latest production, Message in the Clay River is a thrilling play reimagining a story from West African mythology telling the tale of love and identity in an innovative and compelling way, utilising Greek theatre techniques. It follows 3 of the Orishas (Obatala, Osun and Esu) All sent down to earth by Olorun (God) with the purpose to shape the world we live in. However, that comes with a burden that all three have to individually carry but at what point does that weight get too heavy?

We talked to Mo ahead of Message in the Clay River’s return and the Camden Fringe…

Please introduce yourself …

Hi I’m Mo Korede, I’m a Nigerian, London-born theatre maker, poet and artistic director

A word or sentence that best describes your life right now.

Don’t let anyone measure how high your ceiling can be

So how are you feeling ahead of Message in The Clay Rivers run at Camden Fringe Festival?

It’s a mixture I’m excited but I’m nervous. But I think that’s a good thing. It’s the first time I’ve written and not directed a piece of my work, it was also been a part of our performance for Peckham fringe and I know that the show is going to be even better than what people saw before.

Yes, Message in the Clay was first performed at Theatre Peckham, have you adapted any elements for its performance at the Camden Fringe?

Yes a similar length performance, with a new face. As we introduce Ayetobi as our Shango and we’ve added a fair bit more movement to the piece. I feel like the cast and show itself were amazing in Peckham so if it’s not broken don’t fix it. However, what I do love about theatre is that it’s organic and what one audience feels may not be the same as another.

The story takes place during the Ife festival and follows three of the Orishas; Obatala, Osun, and Esu – could you explain the importance of the festival and the Orishas in Yoruba mythology?

So when creating the show I needed another lens other than the greek theatre. An African lens. Hence the Ife festival. A fair part of the show is based on the tales of these deities but I also added i little bit of creative licence. Ife isn’t the only kingdom or place the orishas were worshipped they span throughout the Yoruba kingdom in Nigeria. But as explained, the three focal orishas represented in the show, as well as the others are the ones I felt truly conveyed the narrative I was trying to evoke which is the search for love and acceptance. Unlike the other deities and myths in the Yoruba mythology God (Olorun) always existed so this is something I found interesting and is a throughline throughout the show.

The main characters are Yoruba Orishas, did you do any research or were you quite familiar with West African mythology?

Yes, I did loads of research. I’m also lucky to have a father and mother who have a lot of answers to my never-ending questions. Granted my research at times was ‘which of these gods do I like the most’-which proved hard I decided to follow the narrative based on how the world was created according to the Yorubas.

Through writing this piece, did you learn anything about your own heritage in the process?

Loads, I can’t even count. But I feel like I learn a lot with everything I write as my practice (and the work which imagiphoria studios make) is to bridge the understanding in society. So every play or story has a perspective or a side that I had no true depth and understanding of.

The show incorporates Greek theatre techniques but with a Black/West African story, what was behind this artistic decision?

When I grew up I loved greek and roman mythology but I found it hard to watch greek theatre. I found the stories compelling and the language beautiful but at times I found it quite unrelatable and repetitive. There are only so many times I can watch a story about Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. So with this, as I said my parents are quite proud Nigerians so whenever I would speak about the other gods they would bring up Yoruba gods and as I got older I wanted to know more about them. And then one day I just thought, why not create a show that compels the audience with language, narrates with a chorus and oracles but is rooted in south American and West African mythology?

Although Message in the Clay River is set in the mythical past, what parallels (if any) does the story have with the present day?

The show is about love. And all kinds of love. We have requited unrequited, supernatural, romantic, sibling love. And I feel in that it felt like the quest for that love or to give it or to feel worthy of it is a parallel that we can all relate to.

You are the Artistic Director of Imagiphoria Studios which makes work based on ‘psychological realism’ and ‘perspective theatre’, could you explain what these terms mean and how Message in the Clay River fits in with them?

It’s all just a fancy way of saying I love people’s minds and don’t believe in heroes or villains. I believe and want to make work that shows all sides of the narrative and a character, and then it’s up to the audience to pick who they relate to or live or root for. My goal is that they understand the other side more ideally. With this show, I’m bringing a new side of myology to audiences.

Before we did this show I did a survey to see if anyone could name African gods and most people named Egyptian gods; so portraying West African gods were important, as well as the link we have with South America. And then with the storyline, not everyone is what they seem or look to be.

Your mission statement with Imagiphora Studios is to make work to help people understand each other better, what then do you hope audiences take away from this work in particular?

New knowledge, and some insight on West Africans, South Americans and the Yorubas. A laugh and a few tears.

This show is a work-in-progress, how do you hope this work develops in the future?

Initially, I planned for this show and the actual full show to have over 15 characters, with a larger set with bigger costumes and all the bells and whistles. But we decided that we wanted to take our time with it. Get interest in the show, build on things that need to be fixed and grow as an ensemble. But hopefully, the next step is getting commissioned somewhere that would be lovely.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU …

  • A book you have to have in your collection? 1984, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and all The Game Of Thrones books.

  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? The pandemic experience live – Tobe Nwigwe and Endless– Frank Ocean

  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Game of Thrones, The Pursuit Of Happiness and Lion King.

  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? Shrek at my secondary school. My two older brothers played Shrek and donkey and that’s when I decided I wanted to act and make theatre.

  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad-Couldn’t be at rehearsals this week. Mad- I got locked out of my room. Glad-The show is this Sunday and were sold out

You can watch Message in the Clay River, Camden Fringe in @ The Cockpit Theatre on the 7th( 8pm) & 9th (9pm) of August

To buy tickets visit Camden Fringe

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