Artistic Director Kay Adshead
Associate Director Kully Thiarai
Literary Adviser Abigail Gonda
Producer Daniel Clarke
Mama Quilla is an award-winning woman-led theatre company
spotlighting human rights issues. It was founded by Kay Adshead and
Lucinda Gane in 1999 to offer a female perspective on the big issues of
It also recognizes and seeks to combat the waste of resources and talent in female theatre practitioners over the age of 40.
Its first three major productions, The Bogus Woman (Fringe First,
Manchester Evening News Best Fringe Performer Award, shortlisted for the
Susan Smith Blackburn Award and an EMMA Award), Bites (shortlisted for
the Susan Smith Blackburn Award), and Bones, were all performed at The
Bush Theatre and published by Oberon Books.
Actors who have worked with Mama Quilla include Noma Dumezweni, Sarah
Niles, Ishia Bennison, Karena Fernandez, Chris Jarman, and Pauline
The Bogus Woman, Bites and Bones have all subsequently been produced internationally. The Bogus Woman (La Femme Fantôme) and Bones (Bones (Les Os)) by La Compagnie Yorick and Bites (Morsi/Bisse) by Teatrificio.
Mama Quilla also works in the community with the vulnerable and
dispossessed, creating innovative street/site-specific performance
theatre, celebrating their voices and exploring their experience. Mama
Quilla has a seven year creative partnership with the Crossroads Women's Centre,
which is home to WAR (Women Against Rape), LAW (Legal Action for
Women), and the All African Women's Group, as well as many other
organisations. In partnership, we explore issues in workshops: Buried Pasts, Put Yourself in Our Shoes, The Wookarooka, etc., often creating miniature performances. We also lead awareness raising events. A Night Out of the Asylum
at the Tricycle Theatre, highlighted the plight of women and
children in detention in the UK.
'Mama Quilla has built its reputation tackling issues deemed thorny. In so doing, it has become an invaluable resource providing a voice for those who are rarely heard.' – Cari Mitchell, Crossroads Women's Centre.
In education, Mama Quilla devises original, often large-scale,
productions from young people's own experiences. Since 2007, we have
worked in partnership with the Barking College of Performing Arts making
two epic productions a year involving over 50 students in each
production: Lady Chill, Lady Wad, Lady Lurve, Lady God, originally an
RNT commission, and War Song, Stuffed, Five Crimes Reconstructed,
Woolworths the Musical, Boys Talking, Sweet Papaya Gold, and If Anyone
Recognises These Young People?, all new plays devised and directed by
Kay Adshead and performed at The Broadway Theatre, Barking.
‘Mama Quilla shows that theatre still has the capacity to address public issues.’ – The Guardian
Mama Quilla produced the Theatre of Protest at The Roundhouse, London, commissioning eight new pieces involving over 80 performers.
With Elena Vannoni's Theatre Factory, it reclaimed a derelict bank in downtown Los Angeles and produced Bites.
It made The Future of Women, a feminist epic, with 27 young performers.
It produced and performed Matter, a work in progress examining the real legacy of post-Olympic Britain for two young Eastenders.
A young woman arrives in a strange country. A woman who has committed no crime.
She is indefinitely confined, humiliated and racially and sexually abused. She witnesses her guards' petty dishonesty and casual brutality. She sees innocents scapegoated and worst of all she hears the authorities lie and lie again.
The country is England. It is 1997.
‘Kay Adshead's angry stripped-down script bleeds humanity... Words in Adshead's hands are bullets’ – The Independent
Seven courses, one meal
Moving from the biggest democracy on the planet to the newest, Bites takes us back to Afghanistan via Texas. In the last diner at the end of a world ravaged by war, a menu of love, death and revenge is served by the 'hired help'. Seven courses make for a poetic feast of universal tales looking back to the forgotten war and forward to a nightmarish future.
‘Imaginative, fluent, funny and hideous ... a world in which the relationships between the characters are vicious and cannibalistic, and people are all so much meat ... ’ – The Evening Standard
At night, a young black boy is "questioned" by a white South African policeman. A terrible incident and the truth is buried. Thirty six years later, when the truth is dug up, a tortured Jennifer watches over her dying husband. But does her maid Beauty have the power to "save" him, and is the price of remembering a dreadful secret one that Jennifer is prepared to pay?
Bones is a ruthless excavation of modern South Africa, and in an age of retribution and revenge, it is an anthem for hope.
‘Disturbing power, a compelling vividness and a wicked wit… effective and compelling’ – The Times
The Working Girls project, in partnership with La Compagnie Yoricke, is ongoing and in development and includes:
'Brilliantly acted by Mama Quilla, this deadly
serious issue was served up with humour, compassion, and integrity as
well as political insight. It elicited a robust debate about a sex
worker being arrested and questioned because she was working with
friends for safety. It was played at the Crossroads Women's Centre to a
packed crowd, which included some of the featured sex workers. They were
the first to applaud the realistic way the were portrayed.' – Cari Mitchell, The English Collective of Prostitutes
In 2010, Mama Quilla established a partnership with The City Lit,
Keeley Street, Drama Department and To Dismember was performed as Work
in Progress at the John Lyon Theatre.
'Given the horrific discovery of the remains of a
working girl in Bradford, this play could not have been more timely. It
exposes the hypocrisy and brutal indifference of the authorities towards
prostitute women's lives.' – Sian Evans, Women in Dialogue
Out of the City Lit partnership, the Mama Quilla Initiative evolved.
Breaking is in development and ongoing.
'In Breaking, we, the audience, were engaged in putting pieces of a jigsaw together and once complete, left to ponder on the seemingly finished yet unfinished product. Many aspects of Breaking were challenging artistically and emotionally. Fascinating and captivating.' – Brian Carter, City Lit Senior Drama Tutor
At The Roundhouse, January 2012, eight new commissions, involving over 80 performers, including:
"Since 2010, Kay Adshead under the aegis of Mama Quilla has been creating
performance pieces out of real protests and all the dramatic works seen
at the Roundhouse were ‘workshop or seed productions.’ So here form
gets to mirror content and the process is all the more invigorating for
First up, thirty people dramatised events around the student protests in Westminster on 9 December 2010 against tuition fees in If Anyone Recognises These People...The visual material has an immediate impact because of its shared
memory, while the soundless articulation of the politicians appears
hollow; summed up in one line ‘it’s a people thing.’ ...
Internationality was an overt theme of the day: from content to representation. The Women’s Spring,
‘beyond verbatim’ theatre, was inspired by first-hand testimonies of
women caught up in the Arab Revolution. A woman clerical officer shifts,
orders and stacks papers; she makes no attempt to intervene. At other
times, a woman laughs: a bitter counterpoint to the impotency of all
Arab women where to protest is an illegal act.
There is savagery, degradation in this and the subsequent dramatic
narratives. Under the title The London Summer were two pieces:
one rap and rhyme, which brought the audience to its feet; and the
other, a ‘play in a day’ concept from students of the City Lit in
response to the English summer riots featuring The Guardian, the LSE, a
series of interviews, and a neat tag-line - ‘I’m just watching.’
The experience ended with The Singing Stones, a
revolutionary fairytale, written by Adshead, performed by the compelling
Sarah Nile and directed by Kully Thiarai. In the piece, a woman is
condemned for singing in a public square at night on the spot where her
husband had died. The dramatic switch comes when the narrative changes
from the third to the first person; thrilling.
For the auburn-headed Adshead, who chivvied and encouraged till the
end, you wonder how she keeps the fire in her belly. The answer: by
believing ‘the only struggle you lose is the one you give up.’ It’s
twenty five years since she wrote Thatcher’s Women. Now she gives a voice and a platform to a new generation, empowering them to be loud, proud and strong."
– Pauline Flannery, StageWon
A video diary of The Theatre of Protest made by Sian Evans
Stones made by Sarah Akigbogun and Simon McCabe
Revolution made by Lise Marker and Heidi Hasbrouck