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World Premier of Family Tree to Launch at the Belgrade

World Premier Launch of Family Tree by Mojisola Adebayo, directed by Matthew Xia at the Belgrade Theatre, 10 – 18 March.

Preview by Arabella Neville-Rolfe

The world premiere of Mojisola Adebayo’s Family Tree will launch at The Belgrade, playing from Tuesday 10 March until Saturday 18 March, with a national press night on Tuesday 14 March; the first stop on a 13 week, 12 venue national tour.

A co-production between the Actors Touring Company and the Belgrade, in association with Brixton House, Family Tree is a powerful and poetic new drama exploring race, health and the environment, inspired by the story of one of the most influential women of modern times, Henrietta Lacks, whose influence on modern-day medicine still reverberates today.

Family Tree won the 2021 Alfred Fagon Award, the leading Black British Playwrighting prize, for best new play. Originally commissioned by ATC and the Young Vic Theatre in 2020, an outdoor work-in-progress piece was showcased at the 2021 Greenwich + Docklands International Festival. This brand new 2023 production will be the fully realised stage play directed by Actors Touring Company’s award-winning Artistic Director Matthew Xia.

Amnita Francis

Aminita Francis (Red Riding Hood, Liverpool Everyman) will play ‘Henrietta Lacks’, Keziah Joseph (Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear, National Theatre) will play ‘Bibi / Betsy’, Mofetoluwa Akande (A Christmas Carol, Bristol Old Vic), Aimée Powell (Nothello, Belgrade Theatre) will play “Ain / Anarcha / Oshun’ and Alistair Hall (Safe, Norwich Theatre Royal) will play ‘Smoking Man’.

Matthew Xia, says: “Mojisola Adebayo is an exceptional writer and I’m excited that her award-winning play will be seen by audiences far and wide. There’s a beauty in her work that responds so well to the present moment whilst also holding historical malpractice to account. It’s fearless, brutally honest, at turns hilarious, and ultimately transformative.

“Henrietta’s HeLa cell line forms the basis of the most important medical research and breakthroughs across the last 70 years, from Cancer and HIV to COVID, we owe our lives to her. Denied her place in history, now is the time to bring Henrietta’s epic legacy to life on stage.”

Aimée Powell

Mojisola Adebayo adds: “‘When I met Matthew Xia, Henrietta Lacks came into our minds at exactly the same time. Xia is magic but Lacks is more, she’s immortal and her body has touched every life on the planet – yours, mine… So why have so few people heard of her? Let alone Lucy, Betsey, Anarcha and more... The play paints a family tree of Black women whose cells, blood and waters have birthed, raised and changed the world. Matthew said to me: “I want the audience to leave the theatre looking up”. I went away and wrote a play on a promise. Come see it.”

The Belgrade’s CEO, Laura Elliot and Creative Director, Corey Campbell says: “We’re thrilled to be co-producing Family Tree with Actors Touring Company. Its mission and message are ones we align ourselves with at the Belgrade and we’re honoured to be hosting its world premiere in Coventry.”

Brixton House adds: “Family Tree spotlights the story of Henrietta Lacks, and what we owe to her legacy. Henrietta's story will surprise many whilst also highlighting the need for medical research to be more transparent especially as a concern for Black communities. Family Tree is an urgent part of our history and a unique opportunity for the Black diaspora to connect and reflex on how our bodies have long been commodified. Brixton House embarks on an exciting partnership with ATC to bring this production to Brixton as the genesis of future partnerships.”


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