Each age has its own part to play in its destiny, its own mark to leave on time. Each generation has its own mission to fulfil or betray.
On Friday 29 November, I had the honour of presenting this year’s Alfred Fagon Award at the Tricycle Theatre. It was there in 1996 that a number of Alfred’s friends and family met and decided to establish an award to celebrate his life, acknowledge his contribution to theatre as a playwright and actor, honour his memory and keep his spirit alive by supporting the work of playwrights from the African Diaspora in the UK. A £5,000 prize is awarded to the writer who has, in the opinion of the judges, written the best stage play of the year. New as well as established writers are encouraged to enter.
The 2013 Alfred Fagon Award, the 17th, went to young playwright Diana Nneka Atuona for her first play, Liberian Girl, a play in which she explores the impact upon communities of Liberia’s devastating 14 year civil war.
On 29 August 1986, Alfred Fagon collapsed and died from a heart attack while jogging near his home in Lambeth, South London. The police established that a heart attack caused his death and that he lived in an apartment in the building near where he was found. They claimed that they could find nothing to identify him or find any information about family or friends and therefore arranged for him to be buried as unknown in a pauper’s grave. It was some two weeks later that his agent, Harriet Cruickshank, was alerted that something was wrong when the BBC notified her that Alfred had failed to turn up to a meeting. Among his belongings in that same apartment were his passport, letters from Harriet herself and from the Arts Council.
Alfred’s debut as a professional actor was in Mustapha Matura’s Black Pieces at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1970. This prompted him to write 11 Josephine House which was staged in 1972 at the Almost Free Theatre in London by director, Ronald Rees. Ronald Rees also directed Mustapha Matura’s As Time Goes By in 1971 at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Festival, Royal Court and the ICA with a cast that included Alfred Fagon, Stefan Kalipha, Mona Hammond, Oscar James, Robert Coleby, Corinne Skinner-Carter, Carole Hayman, T Bone Wilson and Tommy Eytle.
By the time of his death, Alfred had written and produced a number of other plays, including No Soldiers in St. Paul’s; In Shakespeare Country produced by the BBC in 1973, a play about the struggle to define and project black personality in a country dominated by Shakespeare; the Death of a Blackman’ (1975); Four Hundred Pounds (1983) and Lonely Cowboy (1985). Read the rest of this entry →