The poster for Great Mother - Iya Ayaba, running next week at the Corpus PlayroomElise Nwokedi

The end of the Biafran War in Nigeria sees people forced to make difficult choices. Agnes, a noviciate nun at breaking point finds a confident in Taiwo, a photojournalist reporting on the conflict. The cause of Agnes’s mental deterioration and the secret of her convent is the story of new play Great Mother - Iya Ayaba. Writer/Director Mojola Akinyemi talks to Assistant Director Rachel Oyawale about the production.

Rachel Oyawale What inspired you to write this play?

Mojola Akinyemi With things I write, I always start out with the images. Like tableaus from the play itself. They stay in my mind and the rest of the story branches out from them. For Great Mother – Iya Ayaba, the first two images were a woman in white, leaning over a balcony, and a woman in pink, writhing on the floor. Both are scenes that are written into the final draft of play. I can’t pinpoint exactly what made me write it. Lockdown did give me the space to reflect and the time to write. It was written mostly in February and March 2021. If there was one positive about being shut up indoors for so many months, this play would be it.

"In every rehearsal I feel like I’m learning something new" - Rachel OyawaleElise Nwokedi

I also spent those months living with my cousins who grew up in Nigeria, rather than just visiting for family events and holidays like myself. Their presence, two extra members in the family home, absolutely allowed me to be more connected to Nigeria. I didn’t realise how many questions I wanted to ask until I was confronted with how little I knew. I suppose this play is a form of discovery, shining a torchlight into a dark part of history that I am ashamed I only learned more about recently. Plays are about people, and while this is set during a civil war, it is also about how this conflict drapes itself over the way these damaged people interact with one another. I read a lot of personal accounts of the Biafran War (available at: during my research. It feels insulting to say that these real stories, harrowing in their description of the atrocities, inspirited my little play. I encourage you to read through some of these, if you can. They capture it all better than fiction ever could.

“Lockdown did give me the space to reflect and the time to write”

R How have you found the rehearsal process?

M Directing something I have written is strange, but also very rewarding. I find it quite amusing being in the room as my Assistant Director or my Associate Director dissect the text with the cast. They pull things out from the play that I didn’t even know I had written in. The cast are also incredible, there is no question about that. And the crew are so brilliant and committed. It’s strange watching other people care so much about something that spent months just rattling about in my head. But I am so grateful, so endlessly grateful to them all.

"I suppose this play is a form of discovery, shining a torchlight into a dark part of history that I am ashamed I only learned more about recently" - Mojola AkinyemiElise Nwokedi

Mojola to Rachel

M What made you want to assistant direct this production?


Mountain View

Salmonella: ‘Gentle, joyful and sincere’

R The first time I read this incredible original script I knew I wanted to be involved in this production. I found myself fascinated by the psychology of each of these characters and the development of the relationships within the play. Each character has a real sense of weight and steel running through them, though expressed in varied and complementary ways. It’s been really enjoyable to aid the cast in teasing out those nuances and hues. This is also the first script I’ve come across that explores the Biafran War, and it does so from a striking perspective. When I first read the text, I found I couldn’t stop until I reached the end. I was as curious to learn how it ended as Taiwo is.

M What do you hope the audience take away from this piece?

R I hope they leave with a desire to learn more about the atrocities that took place during the Biafran War. If it’s something they weren’t previously aware of, I hope it prompts them to enlighten themselves further. I also hope they leave with a renewed sense of empathy toward those around them, and a desire to reach out and help the vulnerable when and where they can.

“Each character has a real sense of weight and steel running through them”

M What has been your favourite thing about working on this production?

R It’s been such a privilege to work with such a talented cast and crew. In every rehearsal I feel like I’m learning something new, and the experience becomes richer and richer the more time we spend together. I have so much admiration and respect for everyone involved. Special mention to writer/director Mojola. She truly is a marvel. I can’t wait for people to come and watch this piece!

Great Mother Iya Ayaba is running from Tuesday 2nd until Saturday 6th November at the Corpus Playroom. Buy tickets here: