Director Paulette Randall talks to Terry Grimley about the social issues underpinning Roy Williams' new play.
Paulette Randall and I are supposed to be talking about Roy Williams' new play Angel House, but I soon sense there's a slight problem: she doesn't really want to talk about the play.
It's not that she's being difficult, just that she really does want it to speak for itself, to an audience that has arrived in the theatre without too much in the way of foreknowledge or preconceptions.
I can see her point. I possibly wouldn't have been quite so bowled over by Williams' play Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads if I had known a great deal more about it than that it was set in a pub on the night of England's final international against Germany at the old Wembley.
In the event I thought Sing Yer Heart Out was a masterpiece, definitely establishing Williams as one of the most exciting writers working in Britain - although Days of Significance, his play about the Iraq war staged by the RSC at Stratford last year, didn't quite hit the same heights.
So it would be absurd to pigeonhole his work into a ghetto called "black theatre", even though Angel House comes to Birmingham Rep's main stage tonight under the banner of Eclipse, the Arts Council initiative for touring black theatre to middle-scale regional venues.
Paulette Randall, former artistic director of Talawa Theatre, last worked on this stage when she directed a revival of Mustafa Matura's adaptation of Three Sisters, also for Eclipse.
Our conversation skirts around the themes of Angel House, which is about two brothers who end up with very different lives despite having grown up in the same London tower block.
"Their lives are shaped by the choices they make," Randall says. "If you think your choices are limited you're going to make limited choices. It's to do with the whole relationship with fathers and sons as well."
How far are these issues specific to the black community?
"I think it's only specific in the sense that these particular characters are black, because it's so universal, this thing. Sometimes we get a certain stereotype of black men and if we did a survey I think a lot of people would be surprised by the number of white people in a similar situation, but it's not seen as an issue. It's about whether you repeat the mistakes your parents made."
There is a widespread perception that problems of underachievement and antisocial behaviour among young black men is directly correlated to a high proportion of absent fathers, but Paulette thinks this far too simplistic.
"My parents split up when I was quite young. That happens, but they loved my sister and me and my father took full responsibility for us. My own personal soapbox is that a lot of the time being raised in a female household means you become quite self-sufficient and that means you don't suffer fools gladly.
"There's a big issue around absent fathers. I'm sure that's an easy explanation, but I think it's much more to do with whether you feel you have a right to do anything you want and achieve anything you want.
"You make different choices in life and that is nothing to do necessarily with absent fathers. There are success stories about people who have never met their fathers, so I think we just get bogged down in this."
This is Paulette's third production for Eclipse. Does she feel it has succeeded in making an impact?
"I think so, particularly because it's touring. The audiences are out there for it, for a start. The main thing is about the scale of the work. On a personal level I've done, for example, Birmingham Rep which is a lovely stage to work on. It's vast, and we won't be using all of it for this show - we didn't use all of it for Three Sisters. I personally would like to do something using all of that space."
As well as her work in theatre, Paulette was producer of the hit TV series Desmonds in the late 1980s. We were talking just after Lenny Henry's widely-reported attack on the television industry for failing to reflect black Britain, and I wondered what her view was on them.
"Well, I haven't read what Lenny said but I did speak to him a couple of weeks ago and he told me he was going to say it. I'm always amazed when I go back to the BBC at White City. There are still so few black people there, certainly at producer level and any kind of decision-making, and therefore people remember me. Most people are used to having that. So if someone else comes along and hasn't necessarily come the same route as they have, doesn't have the Oxbridge bit, that makes it really hard, How do you start to change it? Particularly if people keep believing that you will only hear one point of view."
In the theatre world the Arts Council may have pressured theatres to present more diverse work, but black practitioners are still liable to be typecast.
"People say 'what's the take on this?' Because you're black, it has to have that angle. But I'm an artist, just the same as any other director."
* Angel House is at Birmingham Repertory Theatre from tonight until Saturday (Box office: 0121 236 4455).