Monday, 28 July 2014

Akiya Henry | Interview


Akiya Henry is currently playing Joylene in Perseverance Drive  at the Bush Theatre. Her other theatre credits includes: Ten Women (Jackdaw at the Oval House Theatre), Cake and Congo (Theatre 503), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bristol Old Vic), Mottled Lines (Orange Tree Theatre), Swallows and Amazons (Vaudeville Theatre & UK Tour, Bristol Old Vic), The Colored Museum (Talawa Theatre Company), The Beggar’s Opera (Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park), Much Ado About Nothing/ Shakespeare in a Suitcase (RSC New York), Hello Dolly (Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park), The Tempest (Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park), Vajak Paw (The Opera Group), Carmen Jones (The Southbank Centre, Ramond Gubbay Ltd), Safe (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Coriolanus (Shakespeare’s Globe), The Enchanted Pig (Young Vic Theatre/Opera Group), Under the Black Flag (Shakespeare’s Globe), Coram Boy (Royal National Theatre), Once in a Lifetime (Royal National Theatre), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Sheffield Crucible Theatre), Just So (Chichester Festival Theatre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chichester Festival Theatre), Skellig (Young Vic Theatre), Anything Goes (Royal National Theatre), Bintou (Arcola Theatre), Love’s Labour’s Lost (Royal National Theatre), The Singing Group (Chelsea Theatre), Closer to Heaven (Really Useful Group), Into the Woods (NYMT). Television includes: Silent Witness, Captain Mack, Casualty, Little Britain, Doctors. Film includes: Rabbit Fever, The Best Man, Calcium Kid, De Lovely. Radio includes: One Two Zoo, Reality Check, The Ballad of Frankie Banks


You’ve recently opened in Perseverance Drive playing the role of Joylene at the Bush Theatre, how is it going so far?

You know what, it’s been going brilliantly. The audiences and critics have been wonderfully responsive and the feedback has been eye opening, in a good way. Now that the sun is shining, everyone really does feel that they are in Barbados!

Can you tell us about the storyline of the play?

Perseverance Drive is about a fractitious Bajan family who are strongly connected within the Pentecostal Church, being reunited after the loss of their dear mother and wife Grace Gillard. Tensions rise with the arrival of Josh the middle son to Eli and Grace who has been ostracized by the family for being gay, a revealing letter from Grace, the youngest son Zek who has also been ostracized from the church and family for marrying a divorcee and the arrival of an old student of Ruth’s - Ruth being the wife of Nathan who is the eldest and Eli’s ill health.

What are the main themes and messages that run through this play?

It asks the questions of what true faith is and what family is. Fundamentally, I guess it’s about faith, love and redemption. But every night I perform a new theme materializes – on Saturday the theme of acceptance rang out, Monday the theme of freedom, Thursday the theme of joy, Friday the theme of loneliness. The beauty of this play is the theme of complexity within families, which is why I can never be bored performing it and I think why audiences leave feeling so many different emotions. Yep, bring that Kleenex.

Madani Younis is the Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre and he directed this play, how was it working with him?

Working with Madani was fun. We worked hard, don’t get me wrong, but we shared a lot of laughs in the rehearsal room. One of the main things I loved being in his rehearsal room was that there was a sense of democracy. He allowed us all to feel that we had a voice and ownership over this beautiful play. Also making us feel that we were part of the Bush family and that everyone who works in that building matters. I’m most grateful for the tupperware full of fruit that I would get to nibble at on occasion – not too sure if he was aware I was nibbling, but he will now.

Whilst working on a character, what kind of process do you use?

This question I always find hard to answer – it varies, depending on the part and the play. In regards to Joylene, she is someone that was subjected to years of domestic violence. There was a lot of waking up at 4am upset and traumatised after reading or watching things about that subject matter. With this play so much of it is about what is not said or not shown (although my character does wear her heart on her sleeve) – I spent a lot of nights going through the script asking myself that question and going over lines thinking ‘if I’m saying hello, does she mean it genuinely or is she trying to do something to that person? If yes, what is it she’s trying to do when she says hello?’. This is something we call actioning, which really helps with these types of plays. It does drive you slightly insane, but boy does it help.

You have a variety of credits to your name; Plays, Musical Theatre, Radio, TV and film! What do you enjoy doing most?

OMG, another hard question to answer! I love all of it. But if you were holding me to ransom, I would say theatre. Nothing beats being able to play and discover as much as theatre, also the fact that no show is the same, it really is live, being able to bounce and play with an audience is so gratifying and fun, being able to find new things with text and know that tomorrow you can implement it, it’s also very forgiving - you can make mistakes knowing that tomorrow they will be corrected and no one is judging you for it - and having a family for however many months you’re working together is lovely.

You’ve also performed in a variety of different venues. The Bush Theatre is quite intimate for example, where as West End theatres aren't so much! Whats been your favourite venue you’ve performed at so far?

I always love spaces that allow you to really connect with audiences – the more intimate the better, but there are quite big spaces I’ve worked at where it feels just as intimate as the Bush. Two of my favourite spaces are The Young Vic and Bristol Old Vic. I love both of them for that sense of mass space and intimacy. The Young Vic is a space that can transform into anything but never loses that intimacy you can have with an audience. Another reason why I love the Young Vic is it has never lost it’s sense of community – theatre for me is and always has been about community. The amount of different people from all different backgrounds, social classes and ages sat together for you to perform to always makes me smile. In a world where multiculturalism is still being challenged, it’s our job in theatre to break those boundaries.

And have you got any strange or interesting experiences with any particular spaces you’ve performed in?

When I was doing Swallows and Amazons in Bristol, we had been told about the Bristol Old Vic ghost. Obviously we all thought it rubbish. One evening after the show, I’d stayed behind to finish something, when I heard the toilet flush. I just assumed there was someone still in the room. I called out and no one answered and then it flushed again, so I went inside and realized there was no one there. As you can imagine, I ran like I was running for that Olympic gold medal all the way home.

Having worked with a lot of different companies, is there any person you’ve worked with that really sticks out as someone who has left a special mark on you? Or has changed the way you work as an actor?

To be honest there are quite a few people. A choreographer called Stephen Mear who taught me a lot about letting go and having fun; Tom Morris for reminding me that storytelling is about the audience being able to go on a journey with the actor by being encouraged to use their imagination; David Lan for allowing me to understand how important it is for people who don’t get to experience theatre on a regular basis being allowed to experience it in their way not our way; Trevor Nunn for giving me a chance to believe and respect Shakespeare and understand how a family doesn’t just exist within a cast and creatives but with the whole building you work in. The list could go on, because every show I do informs me and changes me as an actor, that’s the beauty of it.

Have you got any funny stories of things that have happened to you on stage?

I was doing Hello Dolly at the Open Air Theatre at Regents Park and I had a scene where my partner and I had to gallop across the stage, as we started my beautiful dress got caught underneath my shoe and I did a full body flop slide right into the middle of the stage, with my legs akimbo, my skirt over my head and my pants on show for everyone to see! It was a thing of beauty!

What advise would you give to people who want to get into this industry?

The advise I would give is do it because it’s what you really want to do, then find and explore all the different ways you can become a part of the industry. It’s not an easy industry, it’s hard work, and sometimes extremely anti social, financially straining sometimes and you do have to have a very hard skin. But out of all that comes the joys of meeting fantastic new people, challenging new scripts, lots of fun, play and laughter, travelling to places you could only imagine, sharing stories, learning a little bit more about yourself everyday and allowing people to have a few hours of enlightenment, joy, sadness and pure entertainment.

Is there any role you are dying to play?

One of the roles I am absolutely dying to play is Lady Macbeth – she intrigues me as a character and I love a challenge.

Have you got anything planned for after Perseverance Drive?

As for what the future holds after Perseverance Drive…I hate to tempt fate. There are a couple of projects I’m waiting to hear back about. I’m currently setting up my own company to start exploring a version of ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf’…watch this space.

Perseverance Drive is currently playing at the Bush Theatre until 16 August 2014.

Akiya Henry and the cast of Perseverance Drive 

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