SheCan Theatre

Interview: Catch Sheila Atim’s Play ‘Anguis’ at Edinburgh Fringe

#Olivier award-winning actor Sheila Atim (The Old Vic’s Girl From The North Country) will bring her first-ever written play Anguis to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which runs from 31st July to 26th August at 3:00pm at the Gilded Balloon, Dining Room.

“And they said that the walls had the stone of a heartbreak

And the soles of my shoes would be torn and it would take

All the hands of the world to bind them and hold them”

Written by Sheila and directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson (Vault Festival and Trafalgar Studios A Hundred Words For Snow), Anguis is set in a broadcast recording studio where an interview exploring alternatives to popular truth takes place between two women, the great pharaoh Cleopatra and contemporary virologist, Kate. The conversation unpacks the common myth of Cleopatra’s “death by asp”, and as they explore Cleo’s story, the reality of Kate’s own past is also called into question.

Told through a blend of theatre and original music, the play explores the complexities of womanhood and our shared responsibility to seek out the truth. Produced by Avalon and BBC Arts.​

1.What did it feel like getting your recent MBE?

·         It was such a huge surprise to receive the MBE.  My mum was the one who accidentally opened the letter and called me very early in the morning to tell me the news.  So it was a surreal moment.  But I feel very honoured and hope to continue to be an example for others while using it to open doors too.

2. Tell us what inspired the story Anguis, what is it about?

·         Anguis is a conversation between a modern day Virologist and Queen Cleopatra.  They meet in a recording studio and during their time together, they are challenged on what they think they know about each other and the rest of the world respectively.  I was drawn to Cleopatra as a historical figure in part because of the mystery that surrounds her and so that was the launch pad.  The rest went from there.

3. Why do you think it was listed as one of 12 plays to watch?

·         I’ve been working fairly consistently as an actor on some great projects that have been well received, so I suspect part of the interest is down to that.  But I would hope that people are also genuinely intrigued by the idea.  We often fantasize about the prospect of meeting a famous character from history – “Who would you invite to your dinner party?” – so I think that appeals to people.

4. You are known as an actress is this the first play you have written and when did you start writing?

·         This is the first play I’ve written and I sat down to write it at the end of February this year.  So it’s been 5 months in the making.  My understanding is that’s a relatively short space of time, however I work well with a bit of pressure and it’s all about trying something new rather than trying to write a commercial hit straight away.  Plus, it’s been great to keep the process flowing without breaks.

5. Your play deals with womanhood: what are some of the things the play highlights or draws upon in regards to this?

·         The play touches on womanhood but actually, that’s just one of many themes.  It’s quite a hard play to break down in a few words but in summary, everything is questioned – namely how we truly feel about these themes vs what we’ve learned to feel about them.

6. What plays have you seen 2018/2019 that you have enjoyed?

·         I really enjoyed Pah La at the Royal Court in May.  It was about the self-immolation of Tibetan Monks.  Whilst having some vague awareness of this topic, I didn’t really know the finer details, so it was very interesting and I was deeply moved by it too.

7. What do you like about writing?

·         Everything is down to you as the writer.  That’s also what makes writing so difficult.  Until it hits the rehearsal room, it’s your job to dream up almost every aspect.  And even once the actors take over, if it’s a new play like this, you’ll probably still have work to do.  But it’s been interesting and illuminating to see what’s come out of my mind and onto the page.

8. What else are you working on at the moment?

·         There are a few screen projects on the horizon, all of which I can’t really talk about.  It’s nice to have a balance between theatre and screen simultaneously – keeps me on my toes.

9. What else are you looking forward to in regards to Edinburgh Fringe?

·         I’ve never been to the Fringe before!  I’ve been meaning to go for the last few years but I kept being booked in for something and being out of action for August.  So I’m excited to take part in something that I’ve heard so much about and is the starting point for so much wonderful work.

10. Where do you call home?

·         I was born in Uganda, grew up in Essex and spend most of my time in London.  So somewhere between the three I guess.

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