Abi and her Grandad tell each other Anansi folktales. They play games as they work together in the garden among the beautiful flowers and tasty vegetables. As they plant memories, they share secrets and develop a bond that nothing can break.
Grandad is as smart and mischievous as the wily Anansi legend, a part human, part spider and the subject of many West African and Caribbean folk stories. Can he find a way to tell his granddaughter about his plans to return to Jamaica, his beloved homeland?
Join our intrepid characters as they step into the unexpected in this humorous and heartfelt inter-generational adventure. With captivating songs and joyous dancing, Grandad Anansi is an uplifting tale of love, courage and letting go that celebrates storytelling and shines a light on Jamaican culture and the Windrush generation.
Written by award-winning children’s author Elayne Ogbeta, Grandad Anansi was a co-production from Half Moon and Z-arts, the award-winning team behind Dust, winner of the 2022 Off West End Theatre Award for Best Theatre for Children Aged 5-11.
Grandad Anansi toured to 29 venues including libraries in September and October 2022 and was part of the Black History Month celebrations.
“A colourful, amazing production”
★★★★ “Elayne Ogbeta’s warm, pleasing and thoughtful show…manages to pack in more layers than a good strudel…. Storytelling, and its extraordinary power, is at the centre of the piece.”
“This is a terrific play…a really heart-warming, filled with sunshine story. Treat yourself and the family to a great night out.”
“We laughed, we danced, we even shed a tear! Thank you for retelling such a wonderful story with such talent.”
“A story with multiple perspectives always beats one. Teaching parenting with coping with loss. Very well done and very well acted. Thanks.”
“Beautiful story that captured Anansi and explores heritage and loss. Thank you!”
“Thoroughly enjoyed it. The story provoked deep emotions from my 8-year-old son, he shed a tear.”
“The story, actors and set were all fantastic. My daughter enjoyed learning about a different culture.”
Grandad Anansi is the first piece of children’s theatre by Elayne Ogbeta, a Greater Manchester writer of Jamaican heritage. Elayne, a former ESOL tutor, lives in Salford with her high-achieving family. Daughter Naomi Metzger is triple jump 10 times British champion and Commonwealth bronze medallist and son Nathanael Ogbeta was signed by Manchester City aged 10 and is currently a defender for Swansea City.
The character of ‘Grandad’ is partly based on Elayne’s own father, 89-year-old Ashley Malcolm, who moved from Jamaica to settle in Preston in the 1960s as part of the Windrush generation.
In the interview below, Elayne reveals more about the show, listening to the Anasi stories as a child, how her dad inspired the character of ‘Grandad’ and two very high achieving children.
Did you grow up on Anansi stories?
My dad, who is now 89, used to tell me Anansi stories when I was a child growing up in Preston, Lancashire. He told them to my children when they were younger and he will still tell them now to anyone who will listen! He is a fabulous storyteller. For those who don’t know, Anansi, which literally means spider, is a trickster and the hero of many Jamaican and West African folk stories. He uses his wiles to overcome more powerful opponents.
What inspired you to write Grandad Anansi?
My lead character, Grandad Anansi, has much in common with my own dad, Ashley Malcolm, who grew up in Jamaica and moved to England as part of the Windrush generation in the 1960s.
He had a tough time when he first arrived in the UK, struggling to find housing and work and coming up against racism and xenophobia. My dad has talked to me about his experiences as a Windrush generation migrant and I used some of these in Grandad Anansi.
Also in common with Grandad Anansi, my dad has always been full of fun and stories and has enjoyed close bonds with his nine grandchildren. But unlike my lead character, my dad considered moving back as he got older, but in the end he decided to stay. He still lives in Preston and we visit him regularly.
My dad has acted as a consultant for the show, sharing more of his experiences of migration and life as a Jamaican man in the UK. We also spoke to elders from the African Caribbean Care Group in Hulme, Manchester, about whether they would like to return to Jamaica and what keeps them here.
What is Grandad Anasi about?
Grandad Anansi is about the meaning of home. It is about family ties. And it is about the inevitability of change.
It draws on the traditional oral storytelling of the Jamaican and West African Anansi tales, and explores the relationship of a grandad and granddaughter. It is based on my father’s Windrush era experiences and subsequent life in the UK
The actor Marcus Hercules is excellent as Grandad Anansi. After seeing what Marcus brings to the role, I don’t think anyone else could ever play him. He has the Jamaican connection. I think my dad will approve.
How did you get started in writing?
I’ve always written poems since I was a child. I used to write rhyming poems for school friends and everyone seemed to enjoy them.
In my 20s, I did a BA in creative writing and was told I had a strong voice for children. I later did a part time MA at Manchester Metropolitan University in writing for children. My own children were very young at the time and it was a difficult juggle, but my writing helped me to keep a sense of self.
In 2011, whilst working as an ESOL tutor at Salford City College, I self published my first original Anansi story, a children’s picture book called Anansi and the Dutchy Pot.
I am now 52 and have been writing full time for the last couple of years.
Grandad Anasi has been 10 years in the making. Tell us about it
Around 2012, I started working on what would later become the children’s theatre production Grandad Anansi. Initially it was a children’s story, written in verse, similar to my earlier Anansi tale. It later metamorphosized into a radio play and then a stage show.
In 2017, I took part in a free course at young people’s arts centre Z-arts in Manchester. It was for people who were interested in creating children’s theatre. On the very last day, I decided to share my fledgling script for Grandad Anansi with CEO Liz O’Neill. She liked it immediately and proposed we applied for funding to further develop it. This was five years since I first put pen to paper! The project then became a partnership with Half Moon Theatre in London and we all began to get excited about the potential for a national tour.
Then Covid slowed things down for a couple of years. But here we are, in 2022, with a 24-date national tour scheduled throughout Black History Month.
It’s been a long time coming and I couldn’t be more excited.
You have two very high achieving children. Tell us about them
My daughter Naomi Metzer, 24, is 10 times British triple jump champion and has recently won bronze at the Commonwealth Games.
Her younger brother Nathanael Ogbeta, 21, joined Manchester City aged 10 and is currently a defender with EFL club Swansea City.
Both myself and my husband Mathias put a lot into the children as they were growing up and we both deliberately chose jobs near to our home in Pendleton, Salford, so we could be as present with them as possible.
Nathanael was training with City three days a week, whilst Naomi also needed taking to her athletics club three times each week. She was initially spotted at school for her running – Naomi excelled at the 200m – which she later changed to triple jump, her true vocation. My husband was a triple jumper when he was younger and we couldn’t be more proud.
My family has lived in Pendleton, Salford since 2000 and both children attended All Hallows RC High School.
How does your Christianity come across in the show?
I would say that Grandad Anansi is not a religious piece of theatre but that it is steeped in Christian values and contains a few Christian references.
Grandad refers to his allotment as his ‘piece of heaven’ and talks about his plants going to the allotment in the sky. He speaks about the importance of his church and community back in Jamaica and when he is unable to decide whether to return home, he asks God to help him make up his mind.
I was brought up within a Christian household and both my children are still practicing Christians. My husband is an assistant pastor at our church, the New Hope Fellowship in Hulme, Manchester.
A script extract from the R&D phase of Grandad Anansi
What does the production Grandad Anansi say to you?
The show Grandad Anansi really speaks to me. I hear clearly the voice of a person who left their homeland, and came here to make a new home – but they have reached a stage in their life where they do not feel fulfilled. Grandad has a strong sense that something is missing, that it’s time for a change and he is no longer satisfied with his life. He has lost his wife, who gave him a sense of belonging, and now he is alone with his thoughts. He wants to go back to Jamaica. He misses the food, the community and the beaches.
It’s a familiar tale within the Jamaican community and one that I have seen played out many times.
Do you identify with the character of Grandad?
Yes I do! I have always been an old soul and I very much enjoy playing this character. I can feel his pulse and I think writer Elayne Ogbeta could tell that when she first saw me try out the role.
Jamaicans are fun, playful, loving, and caring. I tapped into these things to bring Grandad to life.
My mum is a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Rastafari religion) and I grew up as a rasta. At our meetings, people would get up and give testimonies, telling the stories of their lives. I heard some amazing speakers and singers at these meetings, some of whom helped me to shape Grandad’s mannerisms. Many might have been seen as rebels or outcasts. All had amazingly strong characters and personalities.
Did you grow up listening to Anansi stories?
My mum didn’t bring me up on Anansi stories, but I certainly heard them in the community and at school in Manchester. I know my mum had them told to her as a child.
My own children are 15,12 and three. Storytelling has been an important part of their childhood, with me sometimes reading from books and other times making up stories out of my head. Storytelling is vital for teaching life lessons.
Tell us about your own connection to Jamaica
My mum is from Jamaica and I have visited twice, once as a child and once in recent years.
I like it as a place, but understanding what I do about Caribbean history, I feel a stronger connection to Africa.
My family all moved to the UK, so everyone I know is here.
I was born in Bradford and moved to Leeds as a baby. When I was five, I moved to Manchester, originally living in Moss Side. I now live in central Manchester.
When Grandad tells his stories throughout the show, he paints Jamaica as a little paradise. The show has made me think it may soon be time for another visit!
How did you get started in acting?
My aunty ran children’s activity groups at our Rasta HQ (religious meeting place) in Manchester. I was involved from the age of about five and we used to travel to other HQs in Birmingham and London to perform. My aunty saw something in me from a very young age and encouraged me. I took part in my first proper production at Nia Centre in Hulme when I was 16 and soon after saw my first professional show there. I really enjoyed drama lessons at St Thomas Aquinas School in Chorlton (now called Loreto High School).
After school I did an HND in media and performance and was regularly attending castings during my final year. I landed my first TV job in Holby City a year later. Since then I have appeared in TV shows including Coronation Street, Casualty, Brookside and Shameless and appeared on stage at theatres including The Lowry, HOME, Contact and the Royal Exchange. I set up my own company Hercules Productions and I now write and direct as well as acting. I have also run workshops in prisons and am now starting to release my own music.
What do you hope audiences will take from the show?
Grandad Anasi is about the power of love. It is about the bonds between young and old. The vibe between generations can be really special.
Caribbean culture fosters a strong bond between elders and young people. The elders teach the younger generations, who in turn, look after them when they are no longer able to take care of themselves. I think older people are very much more visible within Caribbean communities and families.
Special thanks to Ashley Malcolm, Elayne Ogbeta’s father, who is the inspiration for the play.
Thanks also to: The elder’s at the African Caribbean Care Group, Hulme, for their inspiring conversations and stories; programming partners across the Big Imaginations Consortium; Ebony Feare, Ayesha Gwilt, Benji Reid, Eva Crompton, David Gilbert, Sapphire Joy, Kenneth Omole, Helen Katamba, Jared Lin and Curtis Cole for their generous contributions during the various R&D and recruitment phases of the project; Steve Curtis (Z-arts) and Graham Broadbent (Half Moon) for production management support; The Dukes, Lancaster and the core staff teams at both Half Moon and Z-arts for their support.
Grandad Anansi was supported using public funding awarded as a National Lottery Project Grant through Arts Council England