Telling Tales – a new play for young audiences

BY Almeida Theatre   February 1, 2012

Between 8 – 10 February the Almeida will be venturing into new territory and staging a play for ages 7 – 11. Telling Tales takes the themes from our main house production, The House of Bernarda Alba, and makes them relevant to a younger audience. Below is a piece written by Jo Buffery who has been writing the Telling Tales resource pack for schools. Through conversations with Oladipo Agboluaje she finds out how Telling Tales responds to Bernarda Alba, how to write for a young audience and how he discovered his passion.


Telling Tales was commissioned by the Almeida Theatre. That is to say, the theatre asked Oladipo to write the play. They wanted a new piece that was linked, in some way, to The House of Bernarda Alba. Oladipo took two particular themes from The House of Bernarda Alba as a starting point for Telling Tales.

The first was the idea of oppression – he was interested in the way that the behaviour of one person can affect the lives of the people around them and wanted to investigate how oppression can be shown as soft and hard power. The second theme was the parent-child relationship, and how parents have a lasting influence on their children. This is a theme that has been explored by many playwrights and poets. In The House of Bernarda Alba the central character is the mother Bernarda who keeps her adult daughters on a very short rein so that they have no independence, no romance and no happiness. In Telling Tales we don’t see any of the parents but we hear about them through the children and understand that the children’s behaviour is often linked to the things that their parents have done or have omitted to do.

Telling Tales is set in a school gym. This is another parallel with The House of Bernarda Alba which takes place in a claustrophobic house from which the Alba girls would love to escape. Oladipo felt that in some ways any enclosed space would have worked well for Telling Tales but the school gym offered a place where the children could hide and not be found unless they wanted to be.

As part of his research process Oladipo visited a local school, the Pakeman Primary School in Islington, to explore ideas with the children there. When you are writing a play for young people it is important to keep them in mind and ask their opinions at all times.  Oladipo was impressed and surprised by the range of questions and ideas that the pupils at Pakeman came up with.

It is possible that some of the young people who come to see this play might one day want to be playwrights themselves. Oladipo’s advice to them is “write whatever you desire to write, not what is in fashion or what you think a theatre wants, but what you feel you have to write. There’s no fun being stuck for months writing a story you have no passion for”. He started writing when he was very young. “I used to write comic book stories. My brother, who was good at drawing, would do the artwork and I’d fill in the bubbles with dialogue. I got into playwriting in my mid-twenties after I did a theatre degree. I enjoyed acting but my heart was in writing. Anyone who wants to be a playwright must be prepared to work hard, read a lot and see as much theatre as they can. They also have to persevere”.

To find out more or book tickets click here