Trinidadian playwright Mustapha Matura has been a leading figure in British black theatre for five decades.
Born in 1939, Noel Mathura was brought up Anglican. He changed his name when he became a writer, explaining: “I liked the sound of it. It was the sixties.”
As a boy, Matura went to school in a wooden room on stilts, but was “disliked by teachers for being a lazy wastrel,” his website notes. He later took a job as a solicitor’s assistant in Trinidad, but was sacked five years after accidentally losing the entire office’s weekly wage packet.
Matura’s dreams of travelling to the USA to become the next James Dean were scuppered by the loss of his life savings to pay back colleagues. After periods of unemployment and bar work, Matura set sail for England in 1962, swapping his Playboy for a Dutch sailor’s copy of Under Milk Wood on the way.
Having worked as a hospital porter for a year, Matura and fellow Trinidadian Horace Ové went to Rome, where Matura worked on stage productions such as Langston Hughes' Shakespeare in Harlem. By then he had decided to write plays about the West Indian experience in London.
Matura has been described as “our finest dramatist of West Indian origin” by Benedict Nightingale of The Times and “the most perceptive and humane of black dramatists writing in Britain” by the New Statesman.
The “wickedly funny, exuberant and poignant” Play Mas premiered at the Royal Court in 1974, before transferring to the West End, winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Play and the Most Promising Playwright Award. It was revived in 2015, attracting rave reviews.
In 1991, Matura received the Trinidad and Tobago Government Scarlet Ibis Award for achievement, and in 2014 was named the first recipient of the first Alfred Fagon Award for Outstanding Contribution to Writing. Quoted in The Stage, former director of the Tricycle Theatre, Nicolas Kent, described Matura as a “pioneer”:
“His work has flourished not because it’s black, West Indian, or from a different country, but because it’s universal, energising and brilliantly great. For most of us, there are opportunities that just wouldn’t have been created without him.”
Mustapha Matura’s plays include: Rum an' Coca Cola (Royal Court Theatre and off-Broadway, 1976); Another Tuesday and More, More (the Factory, London, 1978); A Dying Business (Riverside Studios, 1980); One Rule (Riverside Studios, 1981); The Playboy of the West Indies (Oxford Playhouse, 1984, and produced for BBC television, 1985); Trinidad Sisters (Tricycle Theatre, 1988) and The Coup (Royal National Theatre, 1991).