An epic family drama played out between the heavens and earth, The High Table is the hilarious and heart-breaking debut play from Temi Wilkey which opens at the Bush Theatre on 8 February.
‘That’s actually what me and Leah came here to talk to you about. Look- there’s no easy way of saying this, but… Leah and I are getting married.’ The dresses are chosen, the venue’s booked and the RSVPs are flooding in. But Tara’s perfect Nigerian wedding to her girlfriend Leah is suddenly derailed when her parents refuse to attend. High above London, suspended between the stars, three of Tara’s ancestors are jolted from their eternal rest. Can these representatives of generations passed keep the family together? And will Tara’s decision ever get their blessing?
Temi Wilkey is an actor and writer from North London. She trained as an actor with the National Youth Theatre REP company. Her acting credits include Hamlet and Cymbeline (RSC), Jubilee (Manchester Royal Exchange & Lyric Hammersmith), Manhunt (ITV), Years and Years (BBC) and Land Without Dreams (Gate Theatre). Temi was also the cofounder and co-director of Pecs, the Drag King collective, and performed in sell-out runs of their productions at venues including Tate Britain, Soho Theatre and The Yard theatre. Temi was a member of one of the Royal Court’s Introductory Writer’s Groups in 2017 and is currently recipient of the High-End Television Levy Writer’s bursary Scheme, developing her first plot under the mentorship of Lucy Prebble.
YASS Magazine met Temi Wilkey just before the premiere of this debut play and here is the exclusive interview.
How would you describe yourself?
I’d describe myself as a queer british-nigerian woman. The story of your debut play “The High Table ” is about a female same-sex marriage in a Nigerian family and the tensions between the family and those in the after-life who see things differently.
What made you write about this in your play?
I wanted to write about queer lineage and challenge the idea that being queer is somehow unafrican. I was also interested in African spirituality and attitudes to same-sex relationships in pre-colonial West Africa. I also just wanted to write a queer love story! And explore the tension that an unaccepting family can put on a relationship.
Please talk to me about the intersection of being black and queer. How has this influence your life and affected your career?
I think it’s difficult when the intersections of your identity appear, to others, to be contradictory. And I think that his sometimes led to not feeling entirely accepted or visible in either black or queer spaces. It means that you’re not always able to be your whole self, which is hard. The black queer spaces that I’ve found have been life changing like UK Black Pride and parties like Pussy Palace and BBZ. But before discovering those, I think it was sometimes quite difficult to feel at home. Especially as there’s so little representation of queer women, let alone queer black women, onstage, on screen or in the media at large. It can make you feel quite alone. Which is a big reason that I wrote this play, I think it celebrates both the black queer community and Nigerian culture. And I hope it feels like a gift to queer black people.
Do you think your theatre scene is quite stereotypical and does not leave enough room for LGBTQ+ people?
I think LGBTQ+ people are represented a great deal offstage, whether as producers, directors or stage managers, but this doesn’t often translate to representation onstage or in the stories that are told, which is kind of strange!
You are also writing your first piece for television and you just completed the first writers room for Netflix’s Sex Education S3. Please talk to me about this experience.
It was great! Really special to be in my first writer’s room for a show that I love, that has such diverse representation of queerness and is such a laugh. Also wonderful to not be the only woman, queer person or queer person of colour in a writers room. Which, I’ve heard, is not usually the case. I think I got very lucky with my first writer’s room.
What do you prefer, theatre or television?
I love both! I always say that theatre is my wife and TV is my childhood best friend. Theatre’s the passion that I found for myself and that can sometimes give me an almost religious ecstasy, when it’s good. But TV’s been there for me since I was a kid. It’s more consistent, challenges me and gives me a real daily joy.
Who do you look up to?
Lena Waithe. She’s an absolute hero of mine. She wrote an episode of Master of None (on Netflix) that inspired me to start writing. It was the first time I’d ever seen a queer black woman’s story represented on TV. It’s really funny, really moving and perfectly pitched and I’m so grateful that it exists.
The High Table by Temi Wilkey is at the Bush Theatre, London 8 February –
21 March and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre 24 March – 9 April.