Interview: Theatre-maker Rhianna Ilube  on Immersive, Anti-Colonial show 1884

Interview: Theatre-maker Rhianna Ilube on Immersive, Anti-Colonial show 1884

This April, game-makers Coney will turn Shoreditch Town Hall’s Council Chamber into an immersive theatrical experience written by Rhianna Ilube. Intrigued by the playable theatre experience of 1884, we caught up with Rhianna to talk about the show, influences & inspirations, difficult histories, and Things To Do in London!

1884 | Shoreditch Town Hall | 17-27 April | £20

Interview: Theatre-maker Rhianna Ilube on Immersive, Anti-Colonial show 1884 1

Tell us about 1884. What should an audience expect?

1884 is an immersive-game theatre show, loosely inspired by the legacy and impact of the 1884 Berlin conference on the African continent. Audiences will be invited to become ‘family groups’ in a new fictional town, and engage in a series of fun, playful activities to build a new community. I don’t want to give too much away, but not all will be as it seems… there are plenty of twists and turns along the way.

Why is it important to bring the 1884 Berlin conference story (back) to light now, and in this way?

As an artist I think it is useful to focus on one specific moment or place – in this case, the 1884 conference – as a starting point to talk about many things that are important today to talk about. People who have played this piece have drawn strong parallels to issues of modern-day gentrification in London; to colonial legacies in places ranging from India to Brazil; to questions of land ownership, protest movements and the politics of reparations. The situation we are in today does not come from a vacuum – colonialism is one of the founding structures of how society and global politics is organised today, how institutional racism, global disparities, environmental degradation and colonial forces continue to persist. 

What are your inspirations for making work like this?

I was inspired by activists in the diaspora I have met in Berlin and the UK who have been exploring how to expose histories that our countries have been deliberately suppressing over generations. I am also inspired by immersive shows like We Should All Be Dreaming, andby novels like The Remains of the Day – the former for how it created a warm inclusive environment where people could meet, talk and imagine together, whilst reflecting on the societies we live in and could create; the latter for its themes of European aristocratic diplomacy, hypocrisy and behind-closed-door conference dynamics. I’m motivated by anger at the entitlement and brutality of how Britain used to, and still does, operate on the global arena, and the historical amnesia of this country. I am inspired by an ever-existing curiosity – I like seeing the different ways audiences play when certain situations are presented to them. 

Interview: Theatre-maker Rhianna Ilube on Immersive, Anti-Colonial show 1884 4

What advice would you give to those looking to highlight difficult issues and histories through the arts?

It’s hard. You can’t get it right at the beginning. But you can listen, refine, and collectively build a manifesto that states clearly what you are trying to achieve, trying to teach, and how you want audiences to engage with the piece. Try to be guided by that vision. Collaborate with people from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, who push you and your politics / ideas further than you could do alone. Get more feedback. Think a lot about care (of audiences and artists), accessibility, and consent. Take your time, because exploring these topics with audiences in a sensitive way really cannot be rushed.

What are your favourite London haunts?

To eat – Chuku’s, House of Momo, Ceviche.

To get culture – The Common Press Bookshop, The Yard Theatre, Southbank, Barbican, Institute of Contemporary Arts. Any new writing theatre.

To relax – The cinema. I love the BFI, Genesis, Castle Cinema, Rich Mix. Other than seeing movies, I like Hackney Wick Bath House, Hampstead Heath and Clissold Park. Cafes: BeauBeau’s, Cafe Z, Babel, Drury, Gallery Cafe.