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Rachael Nanyonjo - Recognition Interview

Talawa, the UK’s outstanding Black theatre company, is presenting the premiere of Recognition at Fairfield Halls, as part of This Is Croydon, the Mayor of London’s London Borough of Culture 2023. Recognition is inspired by the remarkable life and works of Black classical composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and aims to give him, and the Black British classical pantheon, the recognition they deserve.

The piece is co-created by playwright and actress Amanda Wilkin and Ugandan-British choreographer and director Rachael Nanyonjo, written by Wilkin and directed by Nanyonjo. 

The show will play at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls from 1st until 24th June. I sat down with Rachael Nanyonjo to discuss the piece.

What inspired you to create and be involved with Recognition?
In 2018/19 I was approached by the Southbank Centre to choreograph for Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Military SongWhile doing my research I was amazed to discover that this brilliant black composer lived in England during the Victorian era and had created such prolific work, however he was not as well-known as his contemporaries. I wanted to tell his story to celebrate him, and the contributions Black people have made to the UK

Rachael Nanyonjo
What research have you been doing in preparation for the show?
Amanda (writer and co-creator) and I have been researching Samuel since 2019. This included listening to his music, going to classical concerts and watching documentaries about him. We also read extensively about Black Victorians and the Black experiences both in American and UK at the time Samuel was alive.

For this piece I knew I wanted it to merge disciplines like music, movement, and text. So I thought a lot about form and decided to lean into the styles of work have informed my practice such as DV8, Frantic Assembly. With my set designerJasmine, we thought a lot about how we could allow the audience to not only feel the music but see it. This is why we decided to work with a videographer to animate the highly cinematic musical moments. I grew up on MTV and my sister taking me to galleries to see work. So, I try to bring my love of artists like Janet Jackson and Beyonce to my own work; I’m inspired by their referencing techniques and their sense of fun.

How much are you looking forward to audiences getting the chance to celebrate the work of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor?
I’m incredibly excited for audiences to see Samuels story and hear his music. Like me, I think they will be really moved by the life he lived.

How have you approached mirroring the stories of Coleridge-Taylor and the character Song in Recognition
In truth it was not hard to find similarities between Samuel’sand Song’s stories because in reality very little has changed. Black people in the UK still do not get parity in the workplace and are not represented as much as they should be in the arts. Artists are still being exploited by record labels and publishers. 

Though there has been some progress, I think 2020 showed us all that the industry still has a long way to go.

How have you gone about blending the work of Coleridge-Taylor and the work of Cassie Kinoshi?
Cassie for the most part has left Samuels music in its original form as it is so beautiful. What she mainly did was rearrange parts to shorten them, as his musical numbers can be 10 minutes or longer. She then used the same instrumentation blended with sound design to create her own original compositions which were inspired by Samuel and her own style of composition as heard in her band SEED Ensemble. 

What can an audience expect from the show?
The audience can expect to be transported to Samuels world, hear his beautiful music and watch Song’s journey, which reflects a lot of what is happening today. They can expect movement and beautiful visuals that wrap you in the music of the play.

Could you describe the show in 3 words?
Affirming, Fun and Legacy.

Recognition plays at Talawa Studios in Croydon’s Fairfield Halls from Thursday 1st until Saturday 24th June 2023. Tickets are available from

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