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IMANGINATION: The Capacity To Believe In Multiple Definitions Of Masculinity

Final show dates tonight in Colchester, tomorrow and Friday at Albany Theatre, SE London!

tiata fahodzi’s biggest tour to date: A duet of love and loss between father and son, exploring grief, masculinity and how we communicate when speaking is impossible. 

Writer and director Natalie Ibu writes for CALM about the journey that has led her to her latest play, ‘i know all the secrets in my world’…


noun./ the capacity to believe in multiple definitions of masculinity.

As an only girl-child brought up by a single mother with five aunties and two uncles (who lived in different countries) whose childhood was filled with Girl Guides and dance classes (where there were no boys so I always had to dance the male part), men were largely absent from my life. Growing up, my understanding of what it meant to be a man was limited to the narrow definitions characterised in culture – all fists and fury in films or muscles and macho moves in music or playing pranks in playgrounds during puberty.

Fast forward a decade or so, I knew more men and boys but more knowledge about the diversity of the male experience meant more curiosity and – in 2008 – my imangination kicked into action and I started to develop ‘i know all the secrets in my world’ at Contact Theatre. It’s a play centred around a father and son – about men and boys and how they communicate – because I wanted to explore all the shapes, shades and sizes of masculinity. I found those 80s/90s/noughties outlines of manhood to be seriously lacking so could only imagine the struggle of having to live within those narrow lines and definitions for which you’re too complex.

Fast forward another eight years and I now run a company called tiata fahodzi which tells stories about the African diaspora in contemporary Britain. As champions of multicultural Britain, we refuse to accept the singular narrative of that experience but – ultimately – of any experience. We pride ourselves in relishing in the complexities of the human experience.

In ‘i know all the secrets in my world’, I focus on the black male experience and I wanted to challenge the singular narrative that seemed to plague the depiction of black men in culture: hyper-masculine, highly sexualised, oppressors (rather than victims) of patriarchy, absent or rubbish fathers with little emotional intelligence. I wanted to give a voice, space and visibility to all the men whose story is not that – all those African men who are loving, emotional, present, involved and nurturing forces.


So this story is about and for those men. I felt a responsibility as a black woman who loves black men – as nephews, as friends, as colleagues, as partners – to counter that prevailing stereotype and, in doing so, I wanted to ask a wider question about masculinity – about how we (society) nurtures our men and boys and whether we are truly equipping them for life, really nourishing all aspects of them. Who does a singular and narrow definition of masculinity really serve? It doesn’t serve them and therefore it doesn’t serve me.

‘i know all the secrets in my world’ – a play about a father and son who experience devastating grief – has lived in my imangination for eight years. At the heart of our play are a father and son grieving the sudden and unexpected death of their wife/mother. We follow them as they try to grieve, try to find a language for the unspeakable, and explore what family looks like for them now. It delights in life’s contradictions – chaos in the silence, delicacy and femininity in the masculine, memory in the present. ‘i know all the secrets in my world‘ is as much about love as it is about loss, and as joyful as it is heartbreaking.

‘i know all the secrets in my world’ explores two men who have been nurtured on stark and singular definitions, making an argument for embracing all possibilities. I believe in multiple definitions of masculinity and see my job, through ‘i know all the secrets in my world’ and other work, as helping us all see ourselves and imagine other possible versions of ourselves. Imangination for all.

Collaborating with an all-male cast, an all-female creative and production team use sound and movement to illustrate the grief process in this unspoken and universal multi-love story of men, women, fathers and sons.

@tiatafahodzi | #tiataiknow | | | Insta: TiataFahodzi


Head to the tiata fahodzi website for ticket buying links.

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