Chasing Rainbows: ‘This play doesn’t give easy answers’

Emmanuele Toure and Donna Berlin will star in Chasing Rainbows. Picture: Sharron Wallace.

Emmanuele Toure and Donna Berlin will star in Chasing Rainbows. Picture: Sharron Wallace. - Credit: Archant

Career ambitions clash with family life in Chasing Rainbows, a new play from Oneness Sankara running at Hoxton Hall from June 25 to July 20.

Artistic Director and CEO of Hoxton Hall, Karena Johnson.

Artistic Director and CEO of Hoxton Hall, Karena Johnson. - Credit: Archant

Ama is a driven and accomplished person. She has been all her life. After years of grafting and striving for more, she achieves something extraordinary - becoming the first Caribbean woman to visit space - and yet still criticism comes her way.

This protagonist of Chasing Rainbows - a new play which opens at Hoxton Hall on Tuesday (June 25) - has made history, but in some people's eyes she has abandoned her child, Sola, while in pursuit of these lofty ambitions. With issues of career goals versus family life at its centre, this is a play with far-reaching appeal.

"For me, this is about a mother and daughter relationship against the backdrop of space - both physically and emotional space between them," says director Karena Johnson.

"It's about a perennial challenge for anybody who is a parent, and the challenge of demands of work in this day-and-age becoming much more 24 hours: people expect you to be accessible all the time."

Running on the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, Donna Berlin plays Ama and there's a stage debut for Emmanuele Toure in her role as Sola. Chasing Rainbows has been written by Oneness Sankara; the first artist outside of North America to win an award at Toronto's International Poetry Slam.

"I have really enjoyed working with Oneness," continues Johnson. "Her performance poetry background was definitely a voice and a style that I wanted to explore.

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"She took a very small seed of an idea from me and absolutely ran with it - she literally took it in to space - which I wasn't expecting. The lyrical quality of the play is really beautiful."

Instead of being spoken of as an inspiration to young girls, Ama is lambasted in a way a male character is unlikely to be. Do gender differences come in to Chasing Rainbows?

"Yes, definitely," replies Johnson. "We first started exploring this idea in a season about women specifically. There's definitely not the same pressures on men, expectations of motherhood are very different. I'm not sure if that will really ever change, even if we think it's an unreasonable demand for women to be around all the time."

Johnson has been Artistic Director and CEO of Hoxton Hall since 2015, when she re-launched the Victorian music hall hoping to create a home for contemporary variety performance.

She says the play is suited to a Hackney audience because "this is a very aspirant area - people want better, they are always trying to do something more; that's what this is about.

"It sounds like a cliché but I genuinely think this is for everyone.

"It doesn't give any easy answers, and is an interesting discussion point for people who want to be challenged."

Chasing Rainbows starts at Hoxton Hall this Tuesday (June 25). For more details and tickets, click here.

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