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The Glasgow-born Actress on Growing Up, Making it in Theatreland and wonder.land

Interviewed by Shola Adenekan


Tuesday, November 17, 2015.

1. Can you please tell us about your background? Your experience of growing up in Glasgow, your parents, early school days and childhood memories?

I was born and brought up in Glasgow, with a few of my early years spent living in Malawi. My mum is Scottish and my father is from Malawi, both of them are engineers. Not a showbiz bone between them. In Scotland, I lived with my mum and my sister, spending most of my time before I attended school with my gran and papa. My gran prides herself in being a top quality jive dancer and my papa used to write and recite poetry, so I like to think that they may have kick started my creative bug. I really loved growing up in Glasgow. It's relatively rough around the edges, and kind of feels like Edinburgh's loud, confident, and more badly behaved younger sister. But there are always cool things to do in the city, everything from fashion and theatre to graffiti art and music has quite a wide following. Unlike London you can't really go anywhere without someone stopping and talking to you, which if you are late for a train can be a nuisance, but it definitely is home for me. 

2. When did you first decide to be an actress?

I think I was around 11 years old when I thought I'd quite like to be a pop star. So I started dance classes and joined a stage school in Glasgow. The whole concept was abandoned though, when I realised I had the most fun in the drama class. And if needs be, in that class, I could arguably still be a pop star sometimes, or a doctor, or even an engineer just like mum! So it seemed obvious that acting was the one for me. I was 15 when I told my mum in all seriousness that I wanted to be an actress. She warned me of the pitfalls of such a career; that I might not earn any money; that I'll need to work other jobs; that success may never ever come; but she has completely supported my decision since that conversation, and doesn't give me too much of a lecture when I ask her to lend me rent money. 

3. Holby City was arguably your first break onto the mainstream, how did you become part of the cast and what's the experience like for you?

Holby city was so exciting for me. My friends and I joke about there being a Holby and Casualty Film School, as they are so great for taking on new graduates and treating them so well. My character ended up dying, so the prosthetics team at Holby made a cast of my head and I had a prosthetic chest  put on so they could rip open my gown to perform CPR. It was really surreal seeing my own face on a surgery slab, post brain surgery. The crew on a show like that are also amazing. They are such a well-oiled machine, and everything is done quickly and with perfect precision. I was super nervous on set though. I was attached to a real pulse reader throughout my first scene and after the first take my pulse was through the roof, completely giving away that I was not half as composed as I was trying to make out. 

4. Looking back at your acting career over the course of two decades, what will you say is the highlight? And are there any low points for you?

Definitely one of the highs has to be performing at The Globe. I toured with Richard Bean's 'Pitcairn', and the atmosphere in that theatre is quite overwhelming. You can see right into the faces of the audience and you are completely at the beck and call of the elements. Since the globe has an open roof, if a plane passes or it starts to rain, everyone knows about it, and of course the show must go on ! 'Pitcairn' in particular was great fun. We had one show where I accidentally pulled off another actress's (Saffron Hocking) skirt, mid-scene . Trying to compose ourselves enough to get to the end of the play was not easy. There was another night at The Globe when the rain caused me to slip to the ground, at the end of Tahitian tribal dance in act 1. The rest of the girls helped me up but I could see the laughter in their eyes! 

There have been many lows between jobs when I've had many a phone call to my mum, crying that 'I don't want to be a waitress'. Or when I've been temping in an office and they ask me for the 20th time if I know how to make a decent cup of tea, and I feel like screaming “ I actually have a degree, you know!!”. But I do get over these experiences pretty quickly. 

 5. Do you think we still need more Black and Minority Ethnic representations on both the stage and on television, from script-writing to production?

Absolutely. We still appear to be light years away from total equality. The industry doesn't seem to have taken on board that the diversity of our country should be reflected in what we are writing and putting on to our stages and screens. It often feels that if characters aren't specifically 'not white', people can be reluctant to have 'too many' BAME actors in the one show as then it can look like it's a deliberately 'ethic' program. The theatre is also still very elitist. Regional theatre is often too expensive for its local audiences, so theatre isn't reaching as many as it could, and new plays rarely go down well. Drama school fees are going up and up, as the number of scholarships go down, so the students accepted into drama schools are now, more than ever, more likely to come from families that are able to support them through their training. These factors all affect how accessible theatre is or who may start to write their own material or who might risk becoming an actor. Nevertheless, things are getting better and there are so many BAME actors that are doing well and flying the flag for equality. 

6. You are currently appearing in wonder.land, can you please describe your character Aly, and can you relate to her at all?

Aly is a teenager, who has just started at a new school after her parents have split. She's trying to make friends and conscious of fitting in, but the girls at school aren't exactly making it easy. Like a lot of people today, she turns to the internet, and finds solace in an online game where she has re-invented herself as an Alice more like the Lewis Carroll icon- Beautiful, brave and curious. Even as adults, people struggle to fit in and are concerned about body image so I think it's a story that a lot of people can relate to. 

7. Please tell us why people should come and see this particular musical?

It's completely mad in the best sense of the word. We've tried to capture as much of the quirkiness of the original book, but with our own modern story running through. Our Red Queen equivalent, the headteacher of the school, can be vicious; our Cheshire Cat is bonkers and we have the most extraordinary projections (from 59 Productions) throughout. It's a great one for the whole family. 

8. If you are not working what do you do to relax?

Most of my free time is spent with friends. Either at the cinema, the theatre, or lounging about the house eating pizza (often considering whether or not we should actually go to the gym).

9. What's the future for Ms Lois Chimimba?

I have no idea. I hope wonder.land is the beginning of a great relationship with The National Theatre. I'd love to do more comedy, and it would be cool to do some TV work after having such a great theatre job this year. I have a brilliant relationship with my agent, Kerry, and have faith that together we will find work that suits me and that I want to do. I definitely can't complain so far, so long may it continue! 

Wonder.land will be at the National Theatre, London, from 27 November to 31 January 2016.

Ticket prices:
£15, £28, £39, £50
Saturday evenings:
£15, £28, £44, £55
Preview prices 27 – 30 November
£15, £26, £32
General ticket information
£12 tickets for schools

Restaurant Packages available from £17.50


So What do you do, Lois Chimimba?

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