Actress Joan Iyiola speaks to Theatrefullstop about starring in Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed at the Gate Theatre!

Joan Iyiola

Written by award winning actress and playwright, Danai Gurira, Eclipsed is a production that amplifies the female voice. Set in Liberia, in 2003 during the Civil War, 5 women find their worlds colliding as they are uprooted from their homes and placed on a rebel army base. As the war wages on, can they all put all of their differences aside? Set to play at the Gate Theatre from Thursday 23rd April, actress Joan Iyiola steps into the role of Bessie. Ahead of the production, Theatrefullstop are lucky enough to speak to Joan about the importance of focusing on the female voice, whether there are any similarities between Bessie and herself and why she was drawn to the production.

Hi Joan, it’s lovely speaking with you again! You’ll be starring in Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed at the Gate Theatre from Thursday 23rd April, how are you feeling ahead of the first show?

Nervous! But excited to move into the theatre and share what we have made.

Could you explain what the play is about?

The play is about 5 women, who navigate their war during the last year of a very long, very brutal civil war. 


You’ll be playing the character of Bessie in the production, could you describe her character?

Bessie is a quintessential survivor. She often doesn’t think before she speaks, is ever-present, and at the start of the play is 6 and a half months pregnant.

Do you identify with Bessie? Are there any similarities/differences between the two of you?

She’s playful. I can relate to that. We are incredibly different too – Bessie’s stopped developing the day that she was abducted, although her instinct is always on point.

What drew you to the production?

Quite simply, the play. Danai Gurira has written an exceptional play.

The production consists of a female strong cast of 5. How is it working with your fellow cast? How important is it to have performances focusing on the female voice?

The cast is awesome.  This is my first all female cast and we are having a brilliant time. The amount of daily laughter is the only workout I need. They are beautiful, intelligent and inspiring women. When women are 50% of the population it isn’t really a question for me whether we should focus on the female voice in our stories. If we don’t we are missing 50% of the stories that we should be telling. The Liberian Civil War was stopped by women. The media neglects to tell this story, and it’s a story that needs to be shared.  

You’ve worked on productions with the RSC, the Young Vic, the Old Vic and the Southwark Playhouse to name a few. What advice would you give to aspiring performers looking to sustain a career like yourself?

My advice to actors would be to search for the stories that you want to tell. Read, watch, ask for recommendations. The more you understand about the work that excites you, the more that it will readThere’s only one you, so invest in the artist that you want to be. And if there is a story that interests you that is not being told, don’t think ‘one day I might write’, pick up the pen and begin. 

Alongside being an established actress, you’re also the co-founder of The Mono Box, could you explain what the company do?

The Mono Box is non-profit organisation that was co-founded with Polly Bennett and we support emerging talent as they enter the industry. We have a resource of over 1300 plays, donated entirely by people within the industry. Each person has recommended a play that means something to them, with a message for the reader on the inside cover, sometimes with a nod to a particular monologue or scene to look at for inspiration. Along with this resource, we host regular Speech Surgeries and Workshops by directors and practitioners every month. 

Are there any events that The Mono Box have coming up this year?

Events coming up this year – our next Speech Surgery will be on Sunday 19th April, Michael Corbidge from the RSC is delivering a 2 day workshop on 20th and 21st April. We have a diverse workshop programme which we are soon to announce for the summer months, so watch this space! There will be something happening every week, which is an exciting progression for us.Check us out and sign up to our mailing list for latest info.

Interview by Lucy Basaba.

 

Eclipsed is currently showing at the Gate Theatre until Saturday 16th May. For more information on the production, visit here…

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