Meet the Writer: Tania Nwachukwu

Following the huge success of Tania Nwachukwu’s The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English at London’s VAULT Festival in 2020, a newly imagined version of the play brings this year’s run of success in the Bush’s Studio to a close. As the play begins rehearsals prior to its opening on 28 November we chatted to Tania about her remarkable play and began by asking what motivates her:

‘I’m really interested in how we relate to one another,’ said Tania, ‘I write a lot about familial relationships, intergenerational relationships, memory, things like that. I’m always fascinated by the different ways we’re connected to people, and the ways those connections influence who we are, how we see ourselves and how we move through the world’

“I became a writer by writing. I enjoy the feeling of having something to say and figuring out the best way to say it. It feels like solving a puzzle.”

‘In terms of influences, Kareem Parkins-Brown is an amazing poet and bredrin. He indirectly taught me about the beauty of specificity in a Young Poets workshop I took part in at the Barbican in 2014. I wrote a very cliched line in a poem and he said something along the lines of “I’ve heard this line many different times, from many different people. It’s kinda boring.” Very simple, but it stuck with me. I never want people to be bored by my work. Cliche’s become cliche’s because they’re constantly reused and reproduced. So even when I’m writing about topics like love or friendship or grief, things that people have written about for centuries, I always think “how will I approach this in a way that is specific to me? How can I avoid cliche and make this interesting?“‘

‘This is going to sound so obvious but I became a writer by writing. I call myself a writer for ease of conversation but often I don’t feel like one. Writing can be hard, and I probably spend more time thinking about writing than actually doing it, but I enjoy the feeling of having something to say and figuring out the best way to say it. It feels like solving a puzzle. It can be frustrating trying to figure out which piece goes where, but once you’ve solved it – it’s a beautiful feeling.’

“I think the play is a message to diasporic people, an offering of ways to connect and keep connected.”

Misty by Arinzé Kene, Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner by Jasmin Lee-Jones and J’Ouvert by Yasmin Joseph were not the first plays I read, but they were a reminder that my view of the world, my voice and my work deserve to take up space. I enjoy any story that activates you to change your own life or to change the lives of those around you in a positive way. Stories that reflect the world we live in (and the world we could live in – for better or worse). Stories that show us what’s possible.’

‘I wrote the first version of The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English as part of my MA at Mountview. I wanted to leave a bit of myself, a bit of my culture in a predominantly white institution. I wanted to use it as an opportunity to interrogate African theatre practices and the ways I could apply them to my work and I wanted to find a way to archive family histories, culture, language. But overall, I think the play is a message to diasporic people, an offering of ways to connect and keep connected, an invitation to use the tools we have to document the people/places we’ve come from in order to share it with those who come after us.’

“With love and dedication, anything can happen, boy!”

‘If I’m watching a show with a friend, I like to meet them an hour before for drinks or food. The reality is I’m probably running late and sat in my seat with seconds to spare. I love sitting in a theatre with a room full of strangers, experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime event that can never be recreated. It legit feels like magic. My favourite thing though is walking back from a show with a friend and talking about the things we loved and the questions we had. You can often find me voice-noting people and telling them to book tickets. I’m a marketing manager’s dream.’

‘As well as theatre, I love going to gigs. I love live music. A lot of my friends and family are in that world so I save a lot of money by being added to guestlists! It’s great seeing artists and musicians on stage connecting with the audience through music they probably made in their bedroom at 2am. It’s a reminder that with love and dedication, anything can happen, boy!’

A common theme we’ve found amongst writers this year is an addiction to reality television! ‘I’m a sucker for a good dating show’ says Tania. ‘Married at First Sight, Love Is Blind, 90 Day Fiancé, Family or Fiancé, Ready to Love, Love after Lock up, Indian Matchmaking, – I can go on and on and on’. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and call it ‘research’ rather than avoiding a deadline!

The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English opens 28 Nov. Find out more and book here.