In a photographer’s studio under a railway arch in North London we sat down with Director Diyan Zora to talk about Mom, How Did You Meet The Beatles?
Our conversation is punctuated by the occasional rumble of trains overhead and camera flashes in the background as her lead actor Rakie Ayola is being snapped behind us for the poster image. We start by talking about the incredible life of playwright (and main character in this autobiographical play) Adrienne Kennedy.
“She was a single mom. Her son was five years old, and she made a very impulsive decision to leave New York for London. We find out that she thought about going on a Tuesday and left on a Thursday. It's extraordinary. And it's a bit of a whirlwind, I think, because in a very short space of time all her dreams appear to be coming true. So it feels like a play about ambition and seeking to achieve everything you've wanted.”
And we don’t think it’s giving too many spoilers to say she did eventually get to meet all four of the Beatles? “Yes that’s right. And she really has a great time with them, I think. And what's really special about the play is sharing the story with her son. It feels like she's trying to preserve it for future generations, which is very moving to me.”
Although her name may be less widely known by the UK theatregoing public, Adrienne Kennedy has been a hugely influential US playwright. In 2018 she was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and in 2022 she received the Gold Medal for Drama from the American Academy of Arts and Letters - an honour shared with only 16 other people (only five of which are playwrights) including Eugene O’Neill.
Why is this an important play to do now? “I was very personally touched by it. And I always search that out in any play that I'm going to stage,” Diyan says. “But Adrienne actually sent me a photo of her in the 1960s with Edward Albee and a number of other quite extraordinary male playwrights of the time. It's a very striking photo. She is the only woman in that image. And there are big questions around why she hasn't been canonized in the same way as those men.
“We're in a moment now where we're asking ourselves those really important questions about whose voices get put forward. Who gets to tell which stories? Where are we staging those stories?
“As a character Adrienne feels singular, because she has this amazing resilience. She's just a very ambitious young woman who packs her bags, moves to London with hardly any money and no connections. And she talks about being a black woman in London at that time, what that was like, even the struggle to get accommodation. But also about the great friendships she makes with these extraordinary characters along the way, so it's not all negative experiences.
“I suppose what feels really special about telling this story at this time is that we will find out about her journey through 1960s London counterculture, and I just don't think it’s a story we hear very often or at all. And she’s a really extraordinary playwright. Her voice deserves to be put out there. We should see her work. It's wonderful and unique.”
Diyan hopes that audiences will experience something very special in this piece. “We've got an amazing actor playing Adrienne, Rakie Ayola. Her voice is very poetic but also that era in London was all about music, so we’ll have a live underscore through it with a musician on stage. And there will be projection, so hopefully it will be a sort of sensory experience for the audience and a very theatrical one.”