March 2, 2021
The co-founder of Talawa, Britain’s longest-running black theatre company, is a woman of many firsts, celebrated in a new book
“Fantastic! Because all of us lickkle, and all of us tallawah, and all of us are women,” said Jamaican actor Mona Hammond when Yvonne Brewster suggested a name for her theatre company. Hammond, who had helped found the company, wanted a Jamaican name. Brewster consulted a dictionary on the English spoken in Jamaica, reading the book backwards. “‘Zuzuwapp.’ Oh, that sounds nice. No, that’s giving too much ‘ethnicity’ to the company,” she recalls. “‘Tallawah.’ Sure – my mother always used to say to me, ‘Yuh lickkle yuh know but yuh tallawah – that means you’re small but you’re strong.” Brewster spelled it “Talawa” so the three As would allow for more graphic design play. And Talawa it became.
“In those days there were a lot of black theatre companies but nobody [was] getting any money,” she remembers. “The work was very experimental and very good in many cases, but it was really, really, really fringe”. Brewster became Britain’s first black female drama student when she attended Rose Bruford College in Kent. Told she would never work, she pondered it for a moment and said, “Well, I will!” We both laugh. She continues: “But I’m not going to be faffing around the edges of the fringe. She adds: “if you call me a fringe, that means I’m something you could cut off … you’re not going to fringe me”.