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Marc Brenner

A natural-born performer: Susan Wokoma interview

20 September 2017 Will Rathbone

Susan Wokoma is a Southwark-born actor and writer who rose to prominence as Raquel in the cult television show Crazyhead. Since then, Wokoma has appeared in the New York transfers of Henry IV and Julius Caesar, part of Phyllida Lloyd’s acclaimed all-female Shakespeare trilogy, and is set to make her West End debut in playwright James Graham’s latest production, Labour of Love, starring opposite Martin Freeman and Tamsin Grieg. We caught up with Susan to chat about her career to date.

London Calling: Hi Susan! Thank you very much for speaking to us. Please could you start off by telling us a little bit about Labour of Love and your role in it?
 
Susan Wokoma: Labour of Love is a new comedy by James Graham that looks at the ever-changing identity of the Labour Party, and the effect it has on the Labour MP of an East Midlands town (Martin Freeman) and his constituency agent (Tamsin Greig). The play spans 27 years, and I play Margot Midler: a local constituent who eventually becomes Deputy Council Leader. Margot is the antithesis of Westminster point-scoring politics and is passionate about her community. She's also really funny!


Susan Wokoma. Image Credit: Nicole Engelmann
 
LC: How have rehearsals been? What’s Jeremy Herrin like as a director?
 
SW: To be honest, so far rehearsals have mainly consisted of laughing at how funny everyone is! I'm learning a heck of a lot too, and it's a deeply safe, fun space. Jeremy is the perfect cocktail – he mixes very precise notes with a playful rehearsal room. When you're relaxed, you let your guard down and become more instinctive. I’m very happy with Jeremy steering this ship, I've got to say.
 
LC: Are you involved in any other projects at the moment?
 
SW: Yes! I'm in a new comedy on Dave called Porters, which focuses on three London hospital porters played by myself, Edward Easton and legit Hollywood royalty: Rutger Hauer. It's very funny and very, very dark.


Susan Wokoma. Image Credit: Marc Brenner
 
LC: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What first drew you to performing?
 
SW: Friends and teachers always told me that I was a good storyteller, and that I was funny. At thirteen, I was encouraged to apply for the National Youth Theatre and it totally changed my life. It was there that I learnt what drama school was, and what acting meant as a career. I got my first agent there, and my first theatre job, so it was definitely the place where I learnt the nuts and bolts of the industry. From there, I applied to RADA at 19 and got in. My older sister is a musical theatre actress, so music was particularly present in our home, but otherwise performing is a bit of a Wokoma anomaly.
 
LC: Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
 
SW: In regards to acting, Viola Davis is my ultimate role model – even though I only really discovered her when she appeared in Doubt. Prior to her, there were many actors I deeply admired but none of them looked or sounded like me.
 
My teachers were probably my first big inspirations. I've been truly blessed, because so many brilliant teachers and mentors have found their way into my life and encouraged me. A lady called Maria Leaf used to teach me drama on a Saturday morning term time – and she's now one of my best friends.


Susan Wokoma. Image Credit: Nicole Engelmann
 
LC: What’s on your cultural radar right now?
 
SW: I must urge absolutely everyone to watch Girl from the North Country at the Old Vic. It's one of the most beautiful theatre shows I've ever seen. I cried about five times! You can always rely on Bob Dylan to move you.
 
Susan Wokoma stars in Labour of Love at the Noël Coward Theatre from 27 September till 2 December. Tickets from £10.
 
London Calling also spoke to Martin Freeman about Labour of Love – you can read the interview here.
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