May 2019. I am on maternity leave after having a baby. Creatively I feel stalled. Not many castings are coming in right now but nevertheless I feel more passionate and determined to work/create. Why? Because I have someone who I am working for, someone who makes me want to succeed more than ever. My six-month-old daughter, Thea.
Throughout my career I have never been in control of my work, always at the peril of a casting director, agent etc. Always waiting for the next casting to come in. I'm sure there's plenty of roles I'm overlooked for.
Half-caste, dual-heritage, mixed-race, half-English
- whatever you want to call us - where do we fit?
And where are the roles for us? Where are our voices?
Talking to Jude about the story of my Nan - a courageous, brave and feisty woman who brought up three mixed race kids on her own on Canterbury estate in a time when prejudice came in bucket loads - she issued me with a challenge.
To tell my own story.
It's a big step for me, and a huge learning experience, but it's really exciting. I've never understood how much work happens before that first day of rehearsal. But I'm learning, and I hope that this will be a starting point for me to create more work in the future.
I’m telling this story from my perspective, which is important as Nan can’t give me her blessing (for the past 10 years Natalie's Nan has been living with dementia). All I do know is that this will be a celebration of her journey.
This is a story about identity, finding my own place. And it's vital that I understand this now, as my story will be the most important thing I can pass on to my daughter.
What I have learned on this journey so far is that I am not half of anything.
I am fully myself.
It's both exciting and nerve wracking to work with a new artist. Mick and I have been working together since 2007, so to start a new project with Natalie at the helm is a departure for us, and me in particular.
But her story resonated with me on so many levels, and I saw the passion she had for telling her own story - speaking her own truth - and any reservations melted away.
Natalie is a fantastic actor. We've worked together on many projects before, both in a performance context and as facilitators for community based projects, many of them working with communities for the Canterbury Estate.
But this process was something different. Not only did it involve her in the process from day one, but would also ask her to dig deep into her emotional and creative reserves.
We knew that this story needed to be female-led too. Natalie would be lead artist and I would direct. We would include childcare in the budget and ensure that scheduling worked around caring responsibilities.
And so we began by talking - lots! And Natalie threw herself into her journaling, both of her own memories and those of her family, who she talked to in great depth about the piece.
Slowly Full English began to take shape.
We went into a Research & Development period with a great team of creatives - actors, a musical director, myself and Mick to start to explore how to shape and craft a piece of theatre from the incredibly rich (and sometimes uncomfortable) memories and thoughts Natalie brought to the table.
Music was also a vital part of her Nan's makeup, and we knew the production had to reflect this.
Through a process of devising and writing, with the whole team involved, a shape began to emerge. We knew we wanted to explore how dementia had impacted on Natalie & her beloved Nan, and decided to shape the work to reflect her fragmented sense of identity, allowing it to inform the work rather than trying to depict it on stage.
Taking the material from the R&D, we shaped a script which we are incredibly proud of. It is honest, unflinching, touching, and honours Natalie's story and journey whilst celebrating the courage and joie de vivre her Nan radiates.
We hope that Thea grows to love it too.