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BLOG: Interview with Elayne Ogbeta

Grandad Anansi is the first piece of children’s theatre by Elayne Ogbeta, a Greater Manchester writer of Jamaican heritage. Elayne, a former ESOL tutor, lives in Salford with her high-achieving family. Daughter Naomi Metzger is triple jump 10 times British champion and Commonwealth bronze medallist and son Nathanael Ogbeta was signed by Manchester City aged 10 and is currently a defender for Swansea City.

The show, a Half Moon and Z-arts co-production for ages 4-9, is on tour throughout October 2022 marking Black History Month. It is at Half Moon on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 October 2022.

In the play, the character of ‘Grandad’ is partly based on Elayne’s own father, 89-year-old Ashley Malcolm, who moved from Jamaica to settle in Preston in the 1960s as part of the Windrush generation. In the interview below, Elayne reveals more about the show, listening to the Anasi stories as a child, how her dad inspired the character of ‘Grandad’ and two very high achieving children.

Did you grow up on Anansi stories?

My dad, who is now 89, used to tell me Anansi stories when I was a child growing up in Preston, Lancashire. He told them to my children when they were younger and he will still tell them now to anyone who will listen! He is a fabulous storyteller. For those who don’t know, Anansi, which literally means spider, is a trickster and the hero of many Jamaican and West African folk stories. He uses his wiles to overcome more powerful opponents.

What inspired you to write Grandad Anansi?

My lead character, Grandad Anansi, has much in common with my own dad, Ashley Malcolm, who grew up in Jamaica and moved to England as part of the Windrush generation in the 1960s.

He had a tough time when he first arrived in the UK, struggling to find housing and work and coming up against racism and xenophobia. My dad has talked to me about his experiences as a Windrush generation migrant and I used some of these in Grandad Anansi.

Also in common with Grandad Anansi, my dad has always been full of fun and stories and has enjoyed close bonds with his nine grandchildren. But unlike my lead character, my dad considered moving back as he got older, but in the end he decided to stay. He still lives in Preston and we visit him regularly.

My dad has acted as a consultant for the show, sharing more of his experiences of migration and life as a Jamaican man in the UK. We also spoke to elders from the African Caribbean Care Group in Hulme, Manchester, about whether they would like to return to Jamaica and what keeps them here.

What is Grandad Anasi about?

Grandad Anansi is about the meaning of home. It is about family ties. And it is about the inevitability of change.

It draws on the traditional oral storytelling of the Jamaican and West African Anansi tales, and explores the relationship of a grandad and granddaughter. It is based on my father’s Windrush era experiences and subsequent life in the UK

The actor Marcus Hercules is excellent as Grandad Anansi. After seeing what Marcus brings to the role, I don’t think anyone else could ever play him. He has the Jamaican connection. I think my dad will approve.

How did you get started in writing?

I’ve always written poems since I was a child. I used to write rhyming poems for school friends and everyone seemed to enjoy them.

In my 20s, I did a BA in creative writing and was told I had a strong voice for children. I later did a part time MA at Manchester Metropolitan University in writing for children. My own children were very young at the time and it was a difficult juggle, but my writing helped me to keep a sense of self.

In 2011, whilst working as an ESOL tutor at Salford City College, I self published my first original Anansi story, a children’s picture book called Anansi and the Dutchy Pot.

I am now 52 and have been writing full time for the last couple of years.

Grandad Anasi has been 10 years in the making. Tell us about it

Around 2012, I started working on what would later become the children’s theatre production Grandad Anansi. Initially it was a children’s story, written in verse, similar to my earlier Anansi tale. It later metamorphosized into a radio play and then a stage show.

In 2017, I took part in a free course at young people’s arts centre Z-arts in Manchester. It was for people who were interested in creating children’s theatre. On the very last day, I decided to share my fledgling script for Grandad Anansi with CEO Liz O’Neill. She liked it immediately and proposed we applied for funding to further develop it. This was five years since I first put pen to paper! The project then became a partnership with Half Moon Theatre in London and we all began to get excited about the potential for a national tour.

Then Covid slowed things down for a couple of years. But here we are, in 2022, with a 24-date national tour scheduled throughout Black History Month.

It’s been a long time coming and I couldn’t be more excited.

You have two very high achieving children. Tell us about them

My daughter Naomi Metzer, 24, is 10 times British triple jump champion and has recently won bronze at the Commonwealth Games.

Her younger brother Nathanael Ogbeta, 21, joined Manchester City aged 10 and is currently a defender with EFL club Swansea City.

Both myself and my husband Mathias put a lot into the children as they were growing up and we both deliberately chose jobs near to our home in Pendleton, Salford, so we could be as present with them as possible.

Nathanael was training with City three days a week, whilst Naomi also needed taking to her athletics club three times each week. She was initially spotted at school for her running – Naomi excelled at the 200m – which she later changed to triple jump, her true vocation. My husband was a triple jumper when he was younger and we couldn’t be more proud.

My family has lived in Pendleton, Salford since 2000 and both children attended All Hallows RC High School.

How does your Christianity come across in the show?

I would say that Grandad Anansi is not a religious piece of theatre but that it is steeped in Christian values and contains a few Christian references.

Grandad refers to his allotment as his ‘piece of heaven’ and talks about his plants going to the allotment in the sky. He speaks about the importance of his church and community back in Jamaica and when he is unable to decide whether to return home, he asks God to help him make up his mind.

I was brought up within a Christian household and both my children are still practicing Christians. My husband is an assistant pastor at our church, the New Hope Fellowship in Hulme, Manchester.

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