INTERVIEW | Somalia Seaton, Actress & Writer

Somalia Seaton is an actress and writer. Her debut play Crowning Glory returns to Theatre Royal Stratford East following a sell-out success at last year’s rehearsed reading of the show at the Angelic Tales New Writing Festival. Acting credits include: Cure (The Underbelly, Edinburgh), Work! (Theatre 503)Buried Alive (Rose Theatre, Bankside), Two Thousand And Sex (Team Angelica) and Angie LeMar’s Ryan Sisters. Somalia is the Artistic Director of No Ball Games Allowed (NBGA), an arts education and community organisation, and a young ambassador for Young Minds, a charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

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Where and when was Somalia born, where did she grow up?

Somalia is a born and bred Londoner of Nigerian and Jamaican parentage.

 

I’m currently based in

I am currently based in Lewisham borough where I attended both primary and secondary school.

 

What was her family life like?

My family life was adventurous! I grew up with my two younger brothers and mother and father. Being the eldest of three kids has its advantages and disadvantages. For starters I would get the blame for everything! BUT being able to boss my little (now taller!) brothers around has always been a highlight of my childhood! I remember the endless adventures I would force upon them in our little garden in Ladywell, which at the time to me was an enchanted forest with fairies in the trees and magical worms that I told my brothers they had to dig up or bad things would happen! I was a nice sister really, and quite a tom boy, climbing trees and watching football, whilst still holding my Barbie dolls, of course! I would frequently give them haircuts and make clothes for them from pairs of tights that I had pinched from my mother’s draw! My mother a designer by trade and my father an electrical contractor, both running their own businesses and providing a safe, secure and open environment for my brothers and I to live in. My mother being Nigerian and father Jamaican meant that Christmas with our extended family was EXTREMELY loud and a perfect infusion of both Nigerian and Jamaican culture.

 

What has she done in terms of work before writing the play?

Crowning Glory is Somalia’s first written play, before this she has worked as a jobbing actress since graduating from drama school in 2008. See biog for further details.

 Writer Somalia Seaton at Theatre Royal Stratford East, photo by Robert Day 1

What is the inspiration behind the play?

Young girls – young girls I have worked with, young girls in my family, young girls I pass in the street. We live in a society where we as women are increasingly expected to present perfect, unobtainable versions of ourselves to the public. Whilst these images are not plausible to ANY women, the media continue to perpetuate western European ideals of beauty , which is even further away from that of women of colour, and it is the effects of this both here in the UK and the rest of the world that needs to be questioned. Who sets these ideals of beauty? Do women realise that these ideals are indeed set? Is it a problem? Maybe not for some, but we are all conditioned and affected, and this intrigues me. I had been working at a school inbetween acting work, the kids I had been working with were in reception at the time and I had been bullied by these 5 year old divas to draw them each a princess, I was careful to make each princess look individual to each girl. I drew one with beautiful blonde hair, she smiled, another with beautiful loose mixed race curly hair, gorgeous long black hair for the beautiful Pakistani girl and finally fierce braids with beads at the end for the young black girl who instantly cried her eyes out. She went on to tell me that princesses do not have braids and that it was ugly and she wanted her princess to have princess blonde hair. It broke my heart, but most of all it planted a seed, that would later grow to be Crowning Glory.

 

What impact does she hope it will have on the audience?

Whilst the themes are important and call for a conscious audience, however Crowning Glory is a hilarious, fast paced, rhythm experience, full of contemporary London language and familiar cultural references sure to tickle the audience. As well as providing what I hope will be a fun night out, I wanted audiences to feel that we all have a choice to make, we can accept our circumstances or we can challenge them. I hope that by raising this it will help to improve future experiences of young girls in the future, because they deserve to believe that they are enough, in a world that all to often tells women that they are not.

 

In a world led by sex, celebrity idols and unobtainable, unrealistic images of beauty, the kind of reflection this play gives will I hope help to move the debate on!

 

Was she involved in casting for the play?

 

Yes Dawn Reid, Deputy Artistic Director and the director of the play, was great with including me in the entire process. We cast it together and I was extremely thankful for the opportunity to be on the other side of things.

 

Has she performed or worked with Theatre Royal Stratford East before?

 

Crowning Glory was performed as a rehearsed reading in first season of the Angelic Tales New Writing Festival in March 2012 and this was the first time Somalia worked with the theatre. Angelic Tales is one of many ways in which Theatre Royal Stratford East supports the development of new voices and new work. Crowning Glory was a sell-out success and audiences told us that they wanted to see the play on Theatre Royal Stratford East’s main stage – and this autumn it is.

 

What is her relationship with the theatre?

 

Somalia trained at E15 Acting School, which began through workshops led by Joan Littlewood right here at Theatre Royal Stratford East. It was also the first place she met mentor Rikki Beadle-Blair who selected the play to be part of Angelic Tales and who played an integral part in the development of this very play. So it is a very very special time for Somalia.

 

How does she feel about the theatre?

 

The staff are encouraging and welcoming. I really feel like I am home when I walk into Theatre Royal Stratford East, and no amount of thank you’s will ever capture my gratitude.

 

Why should audiences come and see the show?

Because everyone has a wife, daughter, girlfriend, grandma, mother or sister that is saturated by images of unobtainable beauty. We need to do better at nurturing the well being of the younger generations, teaching them that they are perfect the way they are. Crowning Glory raises some pivitol questions and promises to get audiences talking and laughing throughout! All in all, a great night out!

 

 

Can you describe what the show is like and what audiences can expect?

It is an all female cast,that uses the often misrepresented black british female experience to delve into a world of female identity! It’s funny, raw, honest and current, they can expect to go on a journey that explores some of the themes associated with the way women wear their hair (many high profile artists of colour are making political statements with their hair, and are being vocal about that in the press).

 

I think it’s about time that the Black British female experience is represented on our stages, people are desperate for stories about our experiences, and I hope to share a few of them. After all, there are so many stories to tell!

 

TO WIN TICKETS TO THE SHOW FIND OUT HOW TO ENTER HERE

 

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