I am livid. Alina Serban, a talented award-winning playwright, just told me about a shocking incident. A week ago, an organisation keen to include her in a documentary, refused to come to Tottenham for the filming and the reason? They said Tottenham was not representative of London; they asked to take her to a more picturesque area. She was furious, and in true totty-style, she told them to take a hike. “Look, I will never be embarrassed [about] where I live, Tottenham represents me as the slum where I come from represents me. It was quite funny because I didn’t know I would be so angry about something like this, I would have said I don’t know how I’ll react but now I know! I was fuming!” They should have done some research before messing with Alina, especially when it comes to her beloved Tottenham. “Who are they to say Tottenham is not representative of London… I am really attached to this place, by living here and doing community work (I really deal with the people of this area) so of course, I’m attached to it.”
She’s lived in the area for around three years, before that, she lived towards the east end of the central line when she arrived from Bucharest, Romania. But she had a real problem with the area that gave her the first taste of London; she says it was quiet and locals kept to themselves. “People were not making eye contact on the street, if they touched you slightly, they would be like, ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’. Not my kind of place. The first day I got to Turnpike Lane, people were making eye contact, and I was like, ‘I want to live here!’ After almost three years in Tottenham, I feel home.” Her initial experience of London was not a good one, “I had a difficult time and I felt unwanted in the UK.” But it inspired one of her most important pieces of work called Home, which was at Rich Mix last September as part of the Stories of London series. “Writing that piece of work here, in this place where other people are trying to fit in and find a ‘home feeling’, gives it that direct link to the area. We all try and find a place to call home and it happened that for me that place was Tottenham.”
A RADA graduate, worked with the LIFT Festival (last year), showcased at Tara Arts, featured in a BBC Drama and what does she really want? To bring and tour her play, Home around Tottenham but for now, she doesn’t have the funds, supporters or partners to help her do that. She feels very strongly about sharing her work that was produced here, with groups who don’t have access to the theatre. She seems exhausted as she tells me about wanting to use it to shake-up some of the unspoken truths, too. “I hear people in the community say, ‘I’ve never seen a play before’ and this is a western play… I see the discrepancy and the gap, when you go to Muswell Hill and then come to Tottenham (the same borough), it’s like two different worlds, but it happened in my world too, in Romania. It was the same when looking at my chances vs the chances of other people – on the same bench at school!” The two worlds feel parallel to her and somehow right to bring a piece that explores identity and what it means to feel at home, to Tottenham – culturally diverse, vast inequality across the borough and in a critical time of change.
Alina has another hump; she reckons we all need a reality check to help us see what we’ve got. “What you call working-class here, in my country is middle-class. Poverty here is not poverty in Romania. When people take me to ‘rough’ places, I’m like, ‘This is nice!’ You would have to see people in my country without electricity, running water. In the capital… What are you talking about, ‘rough’? People do struggle everywhere anyway, but this is also an opportunity for me to get in touch with people with my community work.”
In addition to Home, she has also written a play called I Declare at My Own Risk, which is a one-woman show about growing up in Romania, where she lived and at times struggled; the collection of monologues, follow her journey. Alina hopes to be able to run both of her plays in London and she wants to go into the theatres which don’t usually show plays on diversity. “I’m glad that The National and Arts Council are focused more on diversity, but they do need to start doing the actions not just speaking the words. I want to also show in the impossible places as well, these are untold stories that people don’t know about and so I want to go to the posh places as well… I even want to go to the EU in Brussels, to the people in the suits, people who do not see these types of plays. In their canteen! I want to see the twinkle in their eyes… to make them think for two seconds. They have to see Roma faces telling them about dreams that are normal for other people, like going to university is a dream for so many children and also here. There are so many talented people who don’t get to go to Rada. It’s embarrassing. LAMDA, Central, it’s majority white privilege kids, we have to be honest about that. I dream of a scholarship, giving a chance to other people to study there. People that dream of expressing themselves but do not get the opportunity. I have many dreams…”
What else is coming up in her plans to conquer? In May, Alina has a play that will be part of the Brighton Fringe, The House Project. She also has plans to go back to Romania at the end of the year for five months for a two-part research project called Untold Stories. It’s about Romanian slavery, and the similarities that it may have to African American slavery and the other is to be focused on folktales. “This project aims for two things, the Roma slavery bit and the first, I think very nice, folk stories that people have kept in their families for centuries and some of them have not be produced or written. I went to some of my family and people I know and I can promise that I can deliver seven (stories) and if I can, I would love to invite one of these elders one night to actually say the stories. Next year, February 19th will be the folk stories event and 20th, which is the date of the abolition of Roma slavery will be the reading of the text I hope to produce from my research, I hope.”