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That Black Theatre Podcast

This week we asked our writers to listen to episode 7 of That Black Theatre Podcast. A podcast from the National Theatre’s Black Plays Archive, in partnership with Central School of Speech and Drama and the London Arts and Humanities Partnership, this podcast came out in 2020, right in the midst of the George Floyd protests.

Hosted by Nadine Deller, the podcast aimed to share stories about and from the leaders of Black British theatre, from 1900 to today. Episode 7 focuses on Black female playwrights in the 1980s and 1990s, and featured Professor Lynette Goddard, a professor of Black theatre and performance at Royal Holloway University. We asked our writers to share their thoughts on this profound and important discussion.

 a pink and orange background, with a circular cut out of the TBTP logo - the words ‘That Black Theatre Podcast are writ large in black writing, with a blue background.


This is an excellent podcast. It is very discussion-heavy, with few of the breaks and segments I find in my steady selection of podcast favourites, but the time flew whilst listening to this!

Both Lynette and the hosts made all of their discussion accessible and engaging. I also appreciated hearing snippets of Lynnette’s personal story, and I almost wish we could have heard more about their work. Sitting back and listening to knowledgeable people talk about their subject is fantastic.

It was very interesting to hear about how broader Arts Council policy affected Black women’s theatre in the 90s and hear an example of how perhaps well-intentioned policy can have unintended consequences—in this case, losing some of the community that had built up and individualising the practice of Black writers and creatives.

In the same vein, it was also interesting to hear examples of how funding can shape the representation we get to see. This led to a focus on programming and the responsibility of programmers which I found fascinating. It opened my eyes to all of the extra considerations that programmers need to make and how many of their assumptions and biases they need (and definitely should) be negotiating. As an arts sector nerd, I enjoyed the links they often made between the past and the present, and the issues that exist for the individual and for the sector as a whole. Programmers, for example, have a pivotal role in broadening not just basic representation but also diversity and range within that representation. And, as is pointed out in this podcast a few times, a fundamental part of this process is giving space for those within those groups to define their own stories – not just what the big sector institutions think audiences are ready for/wanting. As Lynette said, “I can’t prove the unprogrammed plays,” which just makes me wonder how much work we have already lost.

The smallest of gripes: I wish it was available on other podcast platforms, as it is on a couple but not the one that I use. Also, though I appreciated the episode notes that I could delve into after listening and look further into specific things mentioned, not everything discussed was there, so I had to listen to it a couple of times and pause often to note everything down.

As someone who has been involved in theatre since I was young and studied it at GCSE, A Level and degree, I was surprised to have never heard of the two plays mentioned. In fact, thinking back, I studied the usual suspects (all white males), and whilst there is nothing wrong with those white men (well… nothing wrong with some of them), I know my time studying would have been richer if the study list on offer was more reflective of the world we live in. This has given me a taste of the wealth of work I have been missing out on.

I am grateful that this review came along, as I wouldn’t have heard about this podcast otherwise. I haven’t read plays for a long time now, but I will have to add all these things to my StoryGraph list and seek them out. It’s always great to find something that makes me feel energised about seeking out subjects and writers that are new to me. Off to the library and, in the meantime, I will be listening to the rest of the episodes!

An image of The National Theatre. The building is a 60s brutalist design with hard edges. The building is a sand colour, with two distinct floors and pillars coming out the roof. The photo is taken of the corner of the building against a sunny blue sky
The National Theatre, London


The Dellers’ That Black Theatre Podcast, spearheaded by PhD student Nadine (at my second uni digs, the Central School of Speech and Drama), and her sister Nadia, is a richly insightful dive into Black theatre. Both are great articulating the nuance of Black theatre’s definition and legacy, and from just one episode’s listen, I’ll make sure I hear all the others that these curious two recorded.

Theatre and storytelling are both specialisms I hold, and identity and voice are central to these artforms. As a result, the ultimate question arises in this ever-politicising world: is theatre by Black artists Black theatre? This question was put to week 7’s interviewee, Professor Lynette Goddard. This conundrum exists for each different outlet and community, although the show usefully interrogates whether that’s worth asking this question when the outlet is theatre and the maker white folks.

Gently prompted for a history of Black female playwriting in the 1980s and 90s, Goddard’s recollection is compelling and storied. For some women, adding ‘Black’ to their role as playwright back then worried them they’d be further marginalised. Goddard paints a picture of this history, and recounts how collaborative and collective theatre making was in the 80s. Oh how on the money they are when comparing today’s world as a far more individual, ‘few of us make it to the stage’ society. They also make the sharp observation that Black people understand whiteness more than whites comprehend Black identity.

The podcast discusses how few Black-run buildings there are (notably, the Young Vic has artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah), while plays centred around Black lesbians can be counted on just two hands. One of this edition’s highlights is Deller’s and the doctor’s intellectual sparring on whether Valerie Mason-John’s play, Sin Dykes, should make a comeback. A play discussing interracial lesbian relationships and BDSM, you can visualise Goddard’s thoughtful face as they consider whether such radical writing would work in today’s age. They then followed up the academic’s speculation with an actual excerpt from Sin Dykes – I was hooked.

It's a vote of confidence from all parties that Nadine’s project partners with the London Arts and Humanities, and the National Theatre’s Black Plays Archive, even when our host and their guest (rightly) raise their eyebrows to the latter’s mainstream efforts to ensure theatre represents us all.

Honestly, the top takeaway for this drama geek was where that ‘mainstream’ word comes from and fits into the arts: Goddard cites such strategies and institutions rising when ‘cultural diversity’ was first published as coupled words in an Arts Council report around 1989. That document put integration high on the ladder as a determiner for its funding, so cue latter decades challenging identities as the master storytellers of their own experience. The result? Well, look around.

There’s lots to do and Goddard’s last note for the National is crucial – may you and they hear it.

Review edited by Harriet


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