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A new play by award-winning playwright, Ade Solanke, ‘East End Boys, West End Girls’, is coming to London this month. Four London teenagers compete for a prestigious scholarship. Friendships are tested, aspirations are challenged. Will the best candidate win, or will postcodes keep them in their places?
A new play by award-winning playwright, Ade Solanke, ‘East End Boys, West End Girls’, is coming to London this month.

East End Boys, West End Girls is the latest production from Ade Solanke whose award-winning debut play, Pandora's Box, was a sell-out hit and toured nationally in 2014. It was nominated for Best New Play in the Off West End Awards and shortlisted for the 2014 Nigeria Prize for Literature.

In East End Boys, West End Girls, four London teenagers compete for a prestigious scholarship. As they venture across the capital into unfamiliar territories, friendships are tested, aspirations are challenged and each is forced to decide what matters most. Will the best candidate win, or will postcodes keep them in their places?

Acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, Ade Solanke, has had a wide ranging career working as a script analyst in Hollywood and teaching scriptwriting around the world. Solanke has been awarded a Nigerian Entertainment Award for Best Playwright and Best Play at the African Film Awards. Her writing credits include the award-winning BBC Radio drama Westway and Nigerian feature film Dazzling Mirage. Solanke’s work has been showcased at Tiata Fahodzi’s Tiata Delights at the Almeida and Talawa’s Unzipped at the Young Vic. Her first play Pandora’s Box was a hugely successful and was nominated for an OffWestEnd Award for Best New Play. It toured nationally in 2014 and was also shortlisted for the 2014 Nigeria Prize for Literature, Africa’s biggest literary award.


ReConnect Africa spoke to Ade Solanke about the new production.

ReConnect Africa: Ade, Congratulations on your new production. How long has it taken from writing East End Boys, West End Girls to bringing it to production?

Ade Solanke: Thank you! And thanks also for your continued support. ReConnect Africa has really helped by connecting us to British-African audiences and this helps make British theatre more inclusive.

I'm really happy to be launching East End Boys, West End Girls. I've been working on the play for about four years, it's my second play. I first started it while on a course at the Royal Court, and developed it with help from Rich Mix and Arcola theatre where we did workshops and readings. The readings were great. It was the feedback from audiences that told me the material was really strong; you really don't know whether your work will connect until you put it in front of the audience for the first time! That's always nerve-wracking, I get cold sweats. But, luckily, the response was very, very enthusiastic, so we kept developing it. People really connected to the characters, the relationships and the theme of the fear of change.

Basically the play is about worlds colliding. Different races, different classes, different areas, having unexpected close encounters. 

ReConnect Africa: What was the inspiration behind the storyline?

Ade Solanke:   I overheard a group of young British-African boys saying they would never go to "a white boy school." I thought: ‘Well, I can understand the reticence, not wanting to be isolated, and wanting to be with people like you.’  But I also thought, if they persist in that way of thinking, they'll rule themselves out of most of the professions, as here in the UK, those fields are white-dominated. So I wanted to dramatise young people grappling with being the first or only black person in a situation. As one of the characters says, 'Someone got to be first.' What does it take? And what if no-one else in your group wants to go? How do you find the courage to go it alone?

Also, I grew up in West London and now live in East London. Although East London is increasingly gentrified, I was really aware when I first moved here how different the two sides were. I was also thinking about the postcode violence, with so many young people staying inside their areas, and not feeling safe enough to venture into other boroughs, or sometimes even travel around in their own boroughs. It's crazy. When I was growing up in London, London was our oyster! We'd spend the whole of the summer holidays exploring the city. So it saddens me that today's kids are often prevented from experiencing that. So, lots of ideas, but basically the play is about worlds colliding. Different races, different classes, different areas, having unexpected close encounters. I brought them together with the device of an entrance exam because that raised issues of social mobility. How do people get to move on up? Through education? What stops some people accessing education? How do they overcome obstacles?

I'm always attracted to character-driven work with socially-relevant themes. And our stories and experiences as African diaspora people are such a rich seam of drama. Endless gold to mine wherever you have 'fish-out-of-water' stories!

ReConnect Africa: Following the success of Pandora’s Box, was it easier to bring East End Boys, West End Girls into production?

Ade Solanke: Well lucky for us that Pandora's Box was such a success! It brought so many new people to theatre and they have been a loyal and engaged audience. It definitely helped raise awareness of our work. I found it quite amazing the love it generated!

People kept asking me, 'Ade, what's next,' so I was nudged by the audience to put out a new piece. There seemed to be a demand, so I created a supply! And we're really grateful to the Arts Council and our other finders for continuing to support us. We couldn't do this without their faith in us. I know it's a privilege to be making art in such a difficult economic climate. I'm really grateful for the opportunity to get mine on.

I'm also so happy to be directing for the first time. It's been quite an adventure. Having such a strong cast and creative team of unbelievable enthusiasts has been a blessing. I've really enjoyed collaborating. I honestly think people will be blown away by the results. Our set, lighting and sound design all have the hallmarks of extremely talented creative minds behind them. In the past I would focus only on the script, but this time I've explored more ways to create striking theatrical effects. Yes, directing has stretched my theatre-making muscles massively.

ReConnect Africa: Where can readers see East End Boys, West End Girls?

Ade Solanke: The London tour starts at Arcola. We're on there until August 1st. Then we go to CLF Arts Cafe in Peckham from 4-7 Aug, Saatchi Gallery  in Chelsea from 10-12 August and finish at Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham 14-15 August. We're also taking part in Rich Mix Youth Takeover on Sat 8th August.

Another fun part of the tour are the free creative workshops we're running at most venues so young people can explore the characters and themes and devise their own responses to the play. They'll have a chance to perform their pieces in front of family and friends in the theatres. Exciting! The workshops are 29-31 July at Arcola, 5-7 Aug at CLF and 10-12 Aug at Saatchi.

Arcola Theatre

Tuesday 28 July - Saturday 1 August, 8pm and

Saturday 1 August, 3.30pm

Tickets: Adults £17, Concessions £12 and Under 16s £6

Booking information: 020 7503 1646 | www.arcolatheatre.com

24 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL

CLF Arts Cafe

Tuesday 4 - Friday 7 August, 7.30pm

Tickets: Adults £12, Concessions £10 and Under 16s £6

Booking information: 020 7732 5275 | www.clfartcafe.org

133 Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST

Saatchi Gallery

Monday 10 - Wednesday 12 August, 4pm

Tickets: Under 16s £6 + £1.01 bkg fee

Booking information: 020 7811 3070 | www.saatchigallery.com

Duke Of York's HQ, King's Rd, London SW3 4RY

Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Friday 14 - Saturday 15 August, 7.30pm

Tickets: Adults £12, Concessions £10 and Under 16s £6

Booking information: 020 8365 5450 | www.berniegrantcentre.co.uk

Town Hall Approach Road, Tottenham Green, London, N15 4RX

ReConnect Africa: Are there plans to tour around the UK or overseas with the play?

Ade Solanke:  I hope so! The Pandora's Box national tour last year took us to 16 venues in ten cities. It was a blast meeting audiences around the UK and we were welcomed by some superb venues like Sheffield Crucible and the Lowry. Lovely, beautiful theatres. And yes, overseas  would be great too. Know any sponsors????

ReConnect Africa: What other productions or projects do you have in the pipeline that you can share with us?

Ade Solanke: I have a new play about bedroom jihadists. It's exploring the alienation that leads them to it.

I'm also working on a sequel to Pandora'sBox. What happens when the boy left in Lagos returns to London? How does he get on with his mum after being 'betrayed' by her? And I have two period pieces about African artists in London in the eighteenth century and in the 1960s. I've written a few drafts. There are several more ideas, some just embryos at the moment. So many stories, so little time! But your readers will be the first to know when they're cooked!

For more information about the production or Spora Stories visit: www.sporastories.com Facebook: /sporastories Twitter: @sporastories #EEBWEG

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