Thursday, 22 September 2011

Biography - Patricia Cumper

by Marjorie H Morgan © 2013

Pat Cumper. Playwright; Author; Critic; Arts Commentator; Theatre Director; Writer; Writing Tutor.  Born: 1954. Jamaica.

Patricia Cumper was born to an English father and a Jamaican mother and grew up in Jamaica then came to England as an archaeology and anthropology undergraduate attending Girton College, Cambridge University in 1973. Cumper’s mother also attended Cambridge University in the 1930s and was the first black woman to gain a law degree from there. Cumper returned to Jamaica in 1977 after she had completed her studies. She began to write after being overheard being critical of a revue she had gone to see, she was challenged to do better and she wrote a play The Rapist that ran for six months. In 1978 this award-winning play established her reputation as one of Jamaica’s leading contemporary playwrights. However, following her Caribbean success Cumper came to Britain where she found it difficult to get her plays produced despite having four Caribbean awards. Her work became known as ‘theatre of the people’ alongside compositions produced by Sistren – a women’s theatre collective based in Kingston, Jamaica. Her early influences included regular theatre attendances as a child and the drama teacher at her school was the renowned Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone.

She moved to Britain permanently in 1993 to pursue her career in theatre work. Cumper became Artistic Director of the major black theatre group Talawa in 2006. She expresses an ongoing interest in producing plays that portray the complete range of the black experience rather than the stereotypical narrow ghettoised image. One of Cumper’s personal goals is to allow black artists unmediated access to audiences.
As well as directing the talents of others Cumper also adapts works by poets such as Claude McKay, and novelist like Toni Morrison and Andrea Levy; Small Island by Levy was serialised in fifteen parts for BBC Radio 4 by Pat Cumper. She has been writing for the theatre in the UK and the Caribbean for over three decades. Her first work to appear in Britain was The Fallen Angel and the Devil’s Concubine at the Almeida in 1989. Her work has been produced in the Caribbean, the US and Canada.

The Key Game, Cumper’s play produced at Riverside in 2002, won four star reviews and was included in Time Out’s Critics Choice. In 2008 Cumper adapted The Colour Purple script for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 which in 2009 won the Silver Drama Sony Radio Academy Award. Cumper’s drama series A Bright Child, also on BBC Radio 4, won the RIMA radio drama award. In addition to her theatre work Cumper has published a novel and several short stories. She primarily considers herself a story-teller.

In 2009 Cumper’s drama Writing the Century was aired on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Cumper used the documents held at the Black Cultural Archive to explore the 20th century through the correspondence aand diaries of real people.

2011 saw the BBC World Drama radio production of Cumper’s adaptation of the novel Their Eyes were Watching God. This play was first broadcast in February 2011.

Pat Cumper will leave the Talawa Theatre in 2012 after 5 years as Artistic Director. Her successor at Talawa will be Michael Buffong. After leaving Talawa, Cumper plans to focus on writing and is also considering starting an arts consultancy.

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