If you haven’t seen his face or heard his name before – you better take note now. Arinze Kene is the young talented actor, writer and director who is currently making an impact in the UK entertainment industry. He was seen last year at the Young Vic in London, playing Raymond LeGendre in the Che Walker’s play Been So Long. He then went on to write his own script and his play Estate Walls, and also received a reading at the Young Vic Theatre.
The actor has also recently completed filming on the British film Freestyle, directed by Kolton Lee where he plays lead character Leon, and which is scheduled for release next month. As if that wasn’t enough, he will soon be hitting the small screen as principle character Connor, in BBC1’s Eastenders.
But that isn’t the subject of our conversation today, rather we meet to talk about his lastest play Little Baby Jesus, which was read and which he directed at London’s Oval House Theatre, as part of their 33% Festival. The festival aims to be a celebration of theatre, dance and film by and for young Londoners, and Arinze’s ‘work-in-progress’ offering received two readings at the London venue. Little Baby Jesus tells the story of three young people as they experience finding a baby under a bridge in the country, the death of a beloved sibling and what their Nigerian grandmother really thinks about bringing home a white girlfriend. Written with an authentic and evocative ‘urban’ voice blended with imagery akin to Shakespeare, you can be sure this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing of this cleverly written and funny piece.
Firstly, how did the readings of Little Baby Jesus go?
I would say they both went really, really, really well. The performance on Wednesday evening was the first time I heard it back with a full audience and it was quite crazy, the laughter and all the emotions was mad; a lot of the reactions I didn’t expect. So they both went really extraordinarily well, they were both sold out shows so I was happy and the box office was happy! It was well received and the feedback was awesome.
So what will be happening now with the play?
It is still in development; this was just the first draft of the play. So what will be happening with me on my part after the experience of me hearing it back with an audience and then work-shopping it with the young actors and my assistant director is I’m going to re-draft it….But my agent is already sending it around and we have a few interests that I can’t say (smiles) and we’re just pushing it and trying to get it on as a piece.
How did you originally get involved in the festival?
Stephanie O’Driscoll who is the producer of 33% Festival and Deborah Bestwick, both from the Oval House, came to a reading of my first play, Estate Walls, at the Young Vic in October. They both said that that piece of writing was one of the best pieces they have seen in a long time and they were interested in it. Then Steph spoke to me about this festival and said they would really like me to put something forward.
The title Little Baby Jesus; what was the inspiration for that?
As I was writing the piece loads of these Catholic or Christian connotations kept coming up in the script naturally. There was a theme of stoning and then a theme of a baby and I thought let me just put it together and that’s the name that come to mind. At the beginning I felt the name might change but it just fits the piece so well and I wanted to keep it.
Where did the inspiration for the three characters actually come from? Is it based on real people or are they completely fictional?
It’s not completely fictional and the inspiration is from things that have happend in my own life. Two of the characters are based on people who were my friends at school; I’ve exaggerated one of the characters quite extremely but it’s based on two guys I know. A lot of it is also coming out of me. In the piece there’s this pilgrimage that these young group of guys go on and they really don’t wanna be there and as they are on this pilgrimage and get lost…and that happened to me when I was in year 9 or year 10. Obviously when that happened I wasn’t thinking, ‘yeah I gotta write about this’ but as years passed it always comes back into my head and I remember that day so clearly.
Now, you’re doing extremely well at the moment with a forthcoming lead role in the British film Freestyle and a principle part in Eastenders; what would you say is the secret or key to the success you are currently enjoying?
Erm…I would say keep you humility for one. I would say keep working hard; it’s what everyone would say – that hard work thing but what it is for me, my opinion and personal experience, is the further I get on, the harder it becomes to produce what is expected of you and you just have to be very careful. More people are listening and also more people are looking and are aware of what you’re doing and so you have to watch exactly what you do…because there are a lot of people judging you now.