Call Tayo Aluko

Ahead of his UK tour of Call Mr Robeson, Tayo Aluko spent some of his time with BHM to tell us who he is.

Nigerian-born, Liverpool-based playwright and singer Tayo Aluko

Who is Tayo Aluko and how long have you been acting?
I describe myself as a 53-year-old Nigerian Brit, having arrived in the UK at the age of 16 for A-levels. I trained and worked as an architect, but gave that up in 2008 to pursue acting professionally. 

What was your original catalyst which got you into acting?
I have always been a stage performer since I was in primary school in Nigeria. One of my earliest and most cherished memories is performing in Shakespeare’s King Lear at the all-boys’ King’s College, Lagos. The King was played by my older brother, and I played, er, Goneril – one of his daughters. Moving swiftly on, I carried on acting, mainly in musicals, at school and university here in the UK, and continued singing in choirs. I performed in a few operas too, and sang as baritone soloist in oratorio with choirs and choral societies. All this was in an amateur capacity. I always thought that I might like to do it professionally, but felt that I might stop enjoying it so much if I did that.

Your upcoming Tour features the almost larger than life, yet very real character: Paul Robeson. Tell us more about his story and why you chose him to depict.
I was asked to perform at a fundraiser event for Sefton Park Palm House in Liverpool, on June 23rd 1995 – the summer solstice. The event was called “Dawn Chorus”, so I found myself singing in public at about 6.30am. I chose to sing the spiritual My Lord, What a Morning. After the event, a lady came up to me and said I reminded her of Paul Robeson, asking if I sang many of his songs. I confessed to knowing little or nothing about him. Two months later, I stumbled on his biography in Liverpool Central Library, borrowed it and read it over a few days. That book changed my life. It was thirteen years after that that I gave up being an architect to become a professional actor, because I felt that Robeson’s story just had to be told. I like to say that I didn’t choose Robeson – he chose me.

So as we know, Call Mr.Robeson is on a nationwide tour, What should audiences expect when they take a seat in the audience?
A remarkable story of the life of a once-famous African American actor and singer whose life story amazingly tells us so much about modern world history – from slavery to the Cold War and civil rights struggles in the United States and Africa. All this despite his having been internationally famous as a singer and actor: most people will know him as the man who made the song Ol’ Man River famous. So, audiences will experience a play with a lot of music, politics and history. They will also get a programme note each day in which I link Robeson’s life to what is happening in the world today, to illustrate why I think we have a lot to learn from his example of activism.

And lastly, where will you be and at what dates?

October 1 & 2: CLF Art Cafe, Peckham, London

October 3: The Brindley, Runcorn

October 7 – 10: Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 

October 16: Seven Arts, Leeds

October 17: Paul Robeson Theatre, Hounslow

October 24: Swindon Arts Centre

October 25: Redgrave Theatre, Bristol. 

October 28: The Witham, Barnard Castle

October 31: Theatro Technis, Camden, London.