Q&A with Arinze Kene

Written for Whats On Stage

Arinze Kene is an actor and playwright who has worked extensively in TV and theatre and is perhaps best known as Connor in Eastenders. He is also the Artistic Director of emerging company Inner City Theatre who seek to give new voices to Urban London. Previous collaborator Che Walker directs their debut production, Kene’s Estate Walls, now playing at the Oval House Theatre.

Can you tell me a little bit about Estate Walls and what it is about?

Estate Walls is a play about three best friends who have grown up on the same estate their whole lives. Obi dreams of becoming a writer and wants to leave the estate. We look at the point right before these boys are set to each go their separate way. Cain however has different plans for the trio and plans a heist. Meanwhile, Obi’s love for a forbidden girl adds to the complexity on the estate, making him soon enter into a world of problems.

What was your impetus to write this story?

I have always wanted to tell this story. Growing up, I spent many days and nights in estates, chilling, talking about girls, talking about how we’re going to make money now and in the future, play fighting, cussing each other’s mums, never talking about religion. I’ve always seen these characters in my head and needed to give them breath.

Your writing has been described as “witty urban street slanguage” are you conscious of a particular style in your work?

All I’ve done is celebrated the Inner City vernacular instead of using it as something which holds back my characters or stereotypes them. I’ve embraced it wholly. I’ve made all my characters very articulate but have not changed the ways in which they select their words.

You’re Artistic Director of Inner City Theatre and Estate Walls is your first play. Is it indicative of your company’s ethos?

Yes. Inner City Theatre set out to embrace and celebrate Inner City characters, places and situations. We want people living in the Inner City to be able to come and see a production and recognize themselves on the stage. Estate Walls does this very well without alienating anybody. The play is universal but quite specific.

What prompted you to form the company?

I know many young people who share the same view with me about theatre and the way it portrays young black and urban people. I’ve set out to do something about it with a few of my friends in theatre by creating Inner City Theatre. We hope this can be a blueprint for others writers or artists to feel encouraged to go ahead and put out whatever message they want to put out. And to continually do so.

What has it been like working with Che Walker?

Che is my boy! I love the dude. I’ve worked with him a few times before, on Been So Long, a play written and directed by him that he cast me in as the lead. And we’ve done various readings together. It has been a great experience and I’ll be working with him again, no doubt.

Whose has inspired you along the way and who do you admire now?

Many people inspire me. Too may to name just one. The thing I love the most in successful creative people is humility and generosity. And by generosity I mean with ‘time’. Just allowing your brain to be picked by someone ‘young’ to the game can inspire him or her a lot. I’m always humbled whenever someone I really respect gives me two minutes of his or her time. Time is the most precious thing you can give to someone I think.

What’s next for you and Inner City Theatre?

Next for me, well, I writing away so I’m sure you’ll hear from me again soon enough. Next for Inner City Theatre, we’ll be staging another full-length play next year.

Estate Walls runs from 24 September (previews from 21 September) until 9 October 2010 at the Oval House Theatre.