The Wife of Willesden is the first play by Zadie Smith, and it will celebrate the writer’s home borough of Brent.
Zadie Smith is the master of examining cultural identity through literature, especially when it comes to London’s NW postcode. Through her hugely successful novels White Teeth, NW and Swing Time, Smith has used flawed characters and snappy dialogue to explore race, relationships and religion. And north-west London, the area where Smith grew up, has regularly provided the backdrop for many of these colourful stories.
So, it’s perhaps no surprise that Smith’s first play is set in Brent.
Smith’s first play, The Wife of Willesden, will reimagine Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale. It will celebrate her home borough of Brent, which is about to become London’s second borough of culture. It has been described as a “gift” to her home borough that will raise questions about “the place of women in society”.
Lois Stonock, the artistic director of Brent 2020, described Smith’s reaction when she was first contacted about writing the play.
“She got back straight away and said, ‘I really love my borough, it is really important to me’ and she said yes, she would get involved,” she said.
“She said the piece would raise questions about the place of women in society and aim to capture the voice of Brent.”
Stonock added: “Zadie talks about the Brent accent. She reckons she can identify it anywhere in the world and I think she might be on to something. There is a way of talking that is very Brent.”
The Wife of Willesden will be a monologue performance and it will debut at the Kiln Theatre. It’s the same theatre where her book White Teeth was adapted for the stage last year.
Brent: London’s second borough of culture
Last year’s borough of culture accolade went to Waltham Forest, under London mayor Sadiq Khan’s initiative.
From January 2020, Brent will start celebrating its new status with a series of events. These include a huge open-air dance performance in Wembley, reggae, a weekend of hip-hop and grime performances in Harlesden, and a mile-long street party down Kilburn High Road.
The Mobo awards will also return to Brent, at Wembley Arena, 25 years after they were dreamed up by Kanya King in the bedroom of her Kilburn home.
“Diversity is our strength and our greatest asset,” said Carolyn Downs, Brent council’s chief executive. “We will celebrate migration, which has formed the bedrock of our communities and this borough for generations, at a time of great uncertainty and hostility to people who come to this country. We cannot allow that in our borough.”
Basically: Brent is going to be the borough to be in next year, so take note.