Cheryl L. West’s “Play On!” Hits London Stages

Talawa, the UK’s outstanding Black theatre company, has announced Black Joy 2024, a season of theatre and workshops celebrating Black stories and artists. The Black Joy season is a partnership between Talawa, Olivier Award-winning J Clare Productions and Chuchu Ngawu Productions to create local and national opportunities for Black artists. The season will feature an exciting large scale musical production, Play On!, a new touring Studio Commission, and Seed Commissions to support Black artists around the country and more.

Play On! is at the centre of Talawa’s Black Joy season, epitomising the ethos of this exciting programme of work. This joyous retelling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night vividly brings to life the 1940s New York jazz scene, set to a timeless, toe-tapping Duke Ellington soundtrack. This exciting jazz musical is conceived by Sheldon Epps, with a book by Cheryl L. West. In the Cotton Club, New York City, a young songwriter arrives ready to make her name – but disguising herself as a man will give her a better shot in a male-dominated music world. As she meets club owner The Duke and sensational singer Lady Liv, Vy is swept up in a syncopated symphony of melodies, mistaken identities and romance.

Play On!, directed by Talawa’s Artistic Director Michael Buffong (A Kind of People, Royal Court; All My Sons, Talawa and Royal Exchange), will tour to the Belgrade Theatre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Bristol Old Vic, Liverpool Everyman, Salisbury Playhouse and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre from September 2024 – February 2025. Play On! is produced by Talawa Theatre Company and Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, with co-producers Birmingham Hippodrome; Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres; Lyric Hammersmith Theatre; and Wiltshire Creative, Salisbury. Talawa and partners are proud that Play On! will provide opportunities for mid-career global majority talent to work on a large-scale production and tour. In line with Talawa’s commitment to platforming global majority actors and creatives, the season’s Associate Programme addresses under-representation in the sector by prioritising emerging creatives.

The Play On! partners are committed to supporting Black artists to create theatre across the country. As part of the tour, each of the producing partners and Talawa will participate in the Seed Commission Programme – each partner commissioning an emerging African Caribbean diaspora artist and supporting them in creating new work. The programme will include scratch performances and networking events throughout the year.

The Black Joy season includes a new studio production, co-commissioned by Talawa Theatre Company and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres, supporting a Liverpudlian artist of African-Caribbean descent to create new work, focusing on Liverpool’s musical history. The show will tour to community spaces around the country, before heading to Talawa HQ in Croydon.