Ahead of The Front Room, the latest from the ‘Missing Pieces’ script-in-hand line-up, we caught up with actor Ellen Thomas who’ll be taking on the lead role at The Wardrobe Theatre this September.
Welcome to Bristol! Do you have any previous links with the city?
Oh yes, quite a few. Four series of Channel 5’s ‘Teachers’, and at Bristol Old Vic Kwame Kwai Armah’s award winning play ‘A Bitter Herb’.
You’re well known as powerful matriarch Claudette Hubbard in EastEnders, and now playing another in Jenny Davis’s play ‘The Front Room’. Tell us a bit about the play.
The play has echoes of Tennessee Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie’, although it wasn’t written with that in mind.
It’s set in a Caribbean household, and is about a claustrophobic mother and daughter relationship; the controlling religious mother Ina and her daughter Alecia who lives in a fantasy world. Both women have their own means of shutting out reality and spend days cleaning the front room, in preparation for non existent visitors. The Front Room is the best room of the house, and symbolises the inner sanctum, a threshold which is never crossed, unless invited.
The mother is desperate to keep the world out, but reality encroaches with a crumbling roof, and repairs which force Ina to let the outside world in, in the form of a stranger, an Irishman Fergal. Fergal however threatens to change things forever, unravelling secrets that have been buried and denied. ‘The Front Room’ is about what happens when a relationship with manipulation at its heart is exposed.
Your character marched out of Albert Square in Autumn last year, and you were straight into a major stage role. How was that?
Immediately after ‘EastEnders’ I worked with the fabulous Bonnie Greer and director Femi Elufowojo Jnr . I really enjoyed being back in the theatre, especially as the play was performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East which is among my favourite theatre spaces. The play – ‘The Hotel Cerise’ – was based on Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’ but set in the USA at the time of the recent American election; and performed at that exact same time too! It was an amazing experience. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to take a leading role in such a powerful new play. I’ll cherish the wonderful memories we created forever.
What was it like to play Adoha Onyeka, the parishioner and church volunteer with a rather affectionate eye for the vicar in BBC2’s comedy ‘Rev’ ?
I loved working on ‘Rev’, it was such a fun job. The cast and crew got on like a house on fire. Every work day was a joy. When it ended I really missed the team. We really bonded.
What attracted you to take part in a Missing Pieces staged reading?
Missing Pieces is about bringing Black theatre to Bristol, to the regions. Creating the opportunity for audiences to experience a plethora and canon of work, that otherwise would be missed, forgotten, or simply not known about. These are pieces of work that are often not seen enough in the mainstream canon, especially here in the South West. The Staged reading is a chance to hear these scripts, to have them read and brought to life, thanks to professional gifted actors.
Missing Pieces continues our Studio Walkabout Season with support from Bristol Old Vic Literary Department. This month’s performance, The Front Room, opens at The Wardrobe Theatre 6pm, 3 Sep. All Tickets £8.