The Missing Pieces Company: Interview

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.


Ellen Thomas

Well known for her roles in EastEnders, Rev, and Teachers, Ellen Thomas is no stranger to the stage either.


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.

The Front Room Final Poster(2)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.


Blahblahblah| Vanessa Kisuule

Ready for another riotous round of Blahblahblah? We caught up with Vanessa Kisuule to find out about her upcoming show Sexy and how her experience at January’s Ferment Fortnight has shaped the finished piece.

Vanessa Kisuule.jpgAre you excited to be returning to Blahblahblah?
Yes, always! The audience is always lively and engaged. The Wardrobe Theatre is such a lush venue and Blah always packs it out. The best thing about Blah is that it attracts a crowd that don’t necessarily come to other spoken word events so it is a more varied demographic.

You performed Sexy earlier this year at Ferment Fortnight, how did that process help you?
It was lovely to perform in front of such a warm crowd with friends of mine amongst the audience. This was simultaneously an asset and a drawback – being in my bra and pants was that bit more nerve racking knowing that people I’ve known for years would be there! Ferment is such an important thing for artists that want a push to try new things but don’t want the pressure to come up with a ‘finished’ thing before an audience gets to experience it. Feeling what an audience do and don’t engage with as in invaluable part of the writing and devising process and it was hugely helpful for Ferment to be one of the first pit stops in the journey.

Did the feedback that you received from Ferment Fortnight impact you or the current version of Sexy?
The feedback was very encouraging and was mostly people saying how much they enjoyed it. Whilst that was heartening and confidence boosting, it perhaps wasn’t the basis for any further development – one needs some more incisive commentary to work on in order to develop things further. It was other scratches that I did after Ferment that provided that for me, I feel. But assurance that you’re on the right track is just as important as constructive cristicism!

What do you think of the Spoken Word scene in Bristol?
It’s a small, thriving and welcoming one – I wouldn’t say I am a part of it per se, purely because I perform all over the place and when I’m back home I don’t attend that many poetry events or open mics. But I know and am friends with many of the people who run and frequent them and am really happy to see how varied their voices they are and how hard they work to prevent it from becoming cliquey. Malaika Kegode and Danny Pandolfi are doing brilliant and tireless work and they really are the heroes of the scene in my eyes.

What do you love most about Blahblahblah?
Anna programmes really brilliant artists and I feel she does a great job of depicting the true breadth of the scene. She isn’t just booking her ‘mates’ or letting her personal taste dictate her choices. I would always recommend Blah to someone who wanted to get their first taste of spoken word because I feel every line up is varied and any longer show that is featured will be an example of the best of spoken word theatre.

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming poetry collection?
It’s slowly incubating – it’s called Sorceress and I want to be a big, meaty, fearless book full of heart and grit. It will hopefully be a good indication of how my writing has developed in the four years since my last book. I’ve been so busy that I worry it may never get finished, but I’ll get there in the end!

Through comedy, spoken word, dance and various states of undress, Vanessa Kisuule fumbles her way through the infinite contradictions of the word ‘Sexy’. Catch it at The Wardrobe Theatre 31 July. 

INKBLOC Ensemble Cast Bio | Alex

Ahead of their debut show, LEGO Beach, we sat down with INKBLOC Ensemble to discover a little more about this year’s Made in Bristol troupe.

Here we caught up with Alex to find out all about her Bristol Old Vic theatre background.

AlexWhat have you been involved in at the Bristol Old Vic and outside of Made in Bristol?
I was in young company for a term and I really enjoyed my time there, so I was determined to maintain my involvement with Bristol Old Vic. With this in mind I helped out back stage with the ‘Under a Cardboard Sea’ production, which was a great experience. Since then I had a role in ‘The Love of the Nightingale’ performance as Niobe, which was an amazing Young Company production to be a part of. Previously, I have studied at the North Bristol post 16 centre doing Drama, Literature and Performing Arts and have always tried to gear my studies towards performance.

What is this year for you?
For me, this year has been a right laugh but also a challenge.

Favourite thing about INKBLOC?
I didn’t expect to gain a place on this programme but when I did it opened up doors to be the best gap year! My favourite thing about INKBLOC is the cracking people; many a time I’ve been in hysterics with the gang, but we always knuckle down and create work and support each other

Plans for the future?
My plan for the future is to start university in September at Bath Spa and study acting.

Tell us something interesting?
I can quote all 9 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race (extraordinary show) and that I have a serious addiction to eating grated cheese out of the bag.

LEGO Beach is INKBLOC Ensemble’s debut show, on Walkabout at 1532 Performing Arts Centre 19-22 July. For more information and to book, click here

Ferment Fortnight Preview | Polish Vermin

Ferment Fortnight kicks off its biannual explosion of work-in-progress and scratch performances from 11 July. Here, Producer Helen Edwards and Director Agnieszka Blonska’s gives us an inside look at their production Polish VerminCatch it at Arnolfini on Thu 13 July. 

Tell us a bit about yourself…

We’re a group of Polish and British collaborators exploring the lives of EU migrants living in the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote. We are Agnieszka Blonska – director, Patrycja Kujawska – performer, Michal Iwanowski – visuals, Benji Bower – sound designer and Helen Edwards – producer.

What are you presenting at Ferment Fortnight?
We’ve been talking about making this show for about six months, but have only been working on it together in the room for the last couple of weeks. The Bristol Ferment performance is the first tentative (or not so tentative) steps in sharing this work with an audience. This isn’t the finished piece, but these are some of our ideas and we hope it provokes a conversation with the audience.

What inspired/influenced your piece?
The world has changed hugely over the last eighteen months – with the Brexit vote, the election of Trump in America, the rise of the far right in Poland and increased numbers of hate crimes being reported. There are almost daily news stories appearing which inspire and influence this project. We don’t presume to have an answer, but we want to explore what these subjects (particularly the Brexit vote) mean to each of us. How do we make the politics personal and how do we stand up when we don’t like what we see going on around us.

What does the work that Ferment do mean to you?
Ferment offers us an opportunity to share our work at this early stage in a supported environment. We’re excited to be developing this piece in Cornwall, a county that voted leave and Bristol, a city that voted remain. After the Ferment sharing we’ll be presenting the piece at the Newlyn Art Gallery in Cornwall later in the week. It feels really important that we share this work with these different audiences and see what people think. This is the first time we’ve presented something in Ferment so we’re excited to see what happens.

What would you say the audience can expect in three words?
A conversation starter.

Ferment Fortnight takes place at Arnolfini 11-13 July before returning to Bristol Old Vic 18-20 July. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

INKBLOC Ensemble Cast Bio | Casey

Ahead of their debut show, LEGO Beach, we sat down with INKBLOC Ensemble to discover a little more about this year’s Made in Bristol troupe.

Here we caught up with Casey to find out all about his Bristol Old Vic theatre background.

CaseyWhere have you studied and how did you become involved with Made in Bristol?
Having not really been involved with Bristol Old Vic or the Young Company for a long time, I found myself stumbling upon the Made In Bristol scheme post-graduation from theatre school. I trained in Musical Theatre at the London College of Music, I was looking for a way to fuse my musical skills and passion for creating fresh, new pieces of theatre and felt Made in Bristol was the perfect opportunity to do this.

What is this year for you?
This year for me has been about experimenting with a collective of 11 other different artists, all from different walks of life. Being able to learn and develop as a performer from working as a close-knit ensemble has made the whole experience of starting a company so much more enjoyable and intriguing.

Plans for the future?
Following this amazing year, I am looking to continue working as a Freelance Performer as well as continuing my journey as a profound up-and-coming theatre maker with the wonderful team at INKBLOC and Bristol Old Vic.

Tell us something interesting?
I have a super strange liking of Bonsai Tree’s and I am a keen guitarist.

LEGO Beach is INKBLOC Ensemble’s debut show, on Walkabout at 1532 Performing Arts Centre 19-22 July. For more information and to book, click here