Award-winning play tells the story of the mother of modern medicine

Family Tree is the story of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman, whose stolen cells changed medical research forever without being acknowledged. Written by Alfred Fagon Award winner Mojisola Adebayo, it comes to the Everyman for only 3 performances from 4 to 6 May. 

In 1951, no one asked Henrietta Lacks for permission to use her cells for research as she was dying of cervical cancer and looking for treatment in Baltimore. The studies on her cells have contributed to important discoveries in many fields, including cancer, immunology and infectious diseases. After more than sixty years, her cell has finally been formally recognised by institutions and the public.  

Family Tree is a beautifully poetic drama about race, health, the environment, and the incredible legacy of one of the most influential Black women of modern times. 

Director Matthew Xia, says, “The work is fearless, brutally honest, at turns hilarious, and ultimately transformative. Henrietta’s cell line forms the basis of the most important medical research and breakthroughs across the last 70 years, from Cancer and HIV to COVID, we owe our lives to her. Denied her place in history, now is the time to bring Henrietta’s epic legacy to life on stage.”  

Matthew Xia was an Associate Director at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse for many years and until recently, a member of theatres’ Diversity Action Group; he won an Olivier Award for Best Family Show. The acting company also features some familiar faces to Liverpool audiences, with Aminita Francis (Red Riding Hood) and Keziah Joseph (The Jungle BookSweeney Todd) returning, alongside Mofetoluwa Akande (A Christmas Carol, Bristol Old Vic), Aimée Powell (Nothello, Belgrade Theatre) and Alistair Hall (Safe, Norwich Theatre Royal).  

The story of Henrietta Lacks illustrates the racial inequities and Family Tree paints her cells, blood and waters have birthed, raised and changed the world. 

On writing the playMojisola Adebayo, whose new play STARS tours into the Everyman in June, says, “Writing Family Tree was the most painful research process I have had because the play is about extraction from Black female bodies, not just Henrietta Lacks but the forgotten ‘mothers’ of modern gynaecology, African American women who were used in experimental surgeries without consent or pain relief and it is also about the extraction of labour from NHS nurses during the Covid 19 pandemic. I was writing during lockdown and it was really tough to read all these histories and stories from today as well. Although the material comes from brutal stories the ultimate picture and message is one of beauty and transcendence.” 

Presented by Actors Touring Company (ATC) and Belgrade Theatre Coventry in association with Brixton House, Family Tree tours to Liverpool Everyman from Thursday 4 May to Saturday 6 May. A post-show discussion with Associate Director Amelia Thornber and members of the cast takes place on Thursday 4 May.Tickets, priced from £12 to £19, are on sale now at  

Image credit: Helen Murray

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