Tributes paid to Newcastle playwright who helped bring communities together

Asa Omorogbe, who was born in Benin, Nigeria, but lived in Newcastle for more than 45 years has died aged 70

Mark Pinder Osa Omorogbe
Osa Omorogbe

A Newcastle playwright and dancer has died aged 70.

Osa Omorogbe, one of Tyneside’s most colourful characters, was born in Benin City, Nigeria, but lived ion Newcastle for more than 45 years.

Osa was a playwright, actor, story-teller and dancer who was a familiar and popular figure about town, always attracting attention whether he worn traditional robes, colourful dashikis (tunics), his trademark cap or a suit with bow tie.

A prominent member of the African community in the area, Osa was one of the founding members of the Community Relations Council in the late 1960s which brought together all Tyne and Wear’s new communities.

Osa was founder and artistic director of ‘Shakers and Movers’ – an association set up to promote understanding and celebration of our cultural diversity through the presentation and performance of the arts.

He shared his African roots and culture in local schools, and Shakers and Movers Training presented drama-based equalities training in the workplace, as well as showcasing local artists from the black and minority ethnic communities at venues such as Northern Stage, Newcastle Arts Centre and Dance City.

“Osa was a creative, warm and charismatic character,” said Newcastle City Councillor David Faulkner, who helped him run Shakers and Movers.

“He was naturally proud of his African roots but saw himself as a Geordie first and foremost, and he loved Newcastle and the North East.”

As chairman of “Freedom Think Tank”, he helped commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of enslavement in 2007.

Osa’s works and contributions to art were mainly in theatre - Everybody Needs Somebody (1974), When Darkness Falls (1990) and Over My Dead Body (1992) were all performed at regional venues.

His play No Sex in Paradise was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1998. He contributed as scriptwriter of the television programme From Kingdom to Kingdom, and he had a supporting actor role in The Loss of Sexual Innocence (1999), one of the films of Carlisle-born and Oscar-nominated director Mike Figgis, alongside Julian Sands and Saffron Burrows.

Osa’s good friend Kelechi Dibie said “Osa won over everyone he met with his charm, his positive approach to life, and his huge, beaming smile. He was a leading figure in the African community in the North East for decades, and was a wonderful advocate for diversity and equality”.

His children are scattered around the world, in Nigeria, Austria and the USA. Son Owen lives in Bexhill-on-Sea, and his daughter Jane, who now lives in Belgium, is a former star of television’s Gladiators - she was Gladiator “Rio” for four years and also made an appearance in the film Gladiator starring Russell Crowe.

In his later years, before the onset of poor health, Osa was also a tutor of African dance and movement at Dance City. He enjoyed just talking to people about African culture in local cafes in the city centre and around his home in Jesmond, and writing down script ideas in the battered A4 diary that he always carried with him.

His last year was spent in Cestria House care home in Jesmond where he was well looked after and happy, with a stream of regular visitors to enjoy his multitude of stories.

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