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Interview: Anni Domingo on stage in Mansfield Park at Watermill Theatre

Interview: Anni Domingo on stage in Mansfield Park at Watermill Theatre

Anni Domingo is a British actress, director, and writer, working in theatre, television, radio, and films. She additionally holds positions on the boards of several organisations in various sectors and has said: “You can’t make a difference unless you have a seat at the table.” Her writing includes plays, poetry, and fiction, with her debut novel Breaking the Maafa Chain published in 2021.

Her acting career encompasses theatre, television, radio, and film, with on-screen appearances in numerous TV series and feature films ranging from Outland (1981) to Wondrous Oblivion (2003). More recently, in 2019 she appeared in several episodes of BBC One’s EastEnders, and on stage in Inua Ellams’ adaptation of Three Sisters at the National Theatre. Her theatre work over the years has included Blood Wedding at the National, Treasure Island at Birmingham Rep, The Last Bloom at Traverse Theatre, The Crucible at Regent’s Park, The Children’s Hour and Yerma at the Royal Exchange, Blithe Spirit at the Leicester Haymarket, and No Boys Cricket Club at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Among other work that Domingo undertakes is radio broadcasting, as well as lecturing (at such institutions as St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and Rose Bruford College) and directing at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), the Central School of Speech and Drama) and elsewhere, recent productions being Ilé la Wà (“We are Home”) by Tolu Agbelusi at Stratford Circus in 2019, and The Story of John Archer at Battersea Arts Centre in 2021.

Anni is currently touring in Mansfield Park which fuses European regency with a Trans-Atlantic chorus for a fresh take on Jane Austen’s classic and an honest look at our colonial past.

How does it feel to be in a play that shines a light on a “long and shameful history of British colonialism and enslavement”.

I am extremely proud to be in this play because there is still so much, we do not know about the part Britain played in the enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean or America, while they were living a life of luxury at home. Some people like Jane Austen did write about it but the truth was hidden within the stories to make it more palatable, and people did not see it. This is a chance to look it through a black gaze.

  1. Tell us about what motives you when taking on a role?

I take a role when I believe that the role and the play have something important to say. I need to feel that it will open up a conversation in some way and make people think.

  • As a storyteller do you think that pace that the landscape is changing in terms of who tells our stories is good enough, what would you like to see happen?

I do think that the landscape of who tells our stories is changing although slowly. I would like to think that it is accepted that we have the right to tell our stories, but that is not always the case. Sometimes it is just a gesture from companies and then the support soon peters out. We must all keep pushing for us to be able to tell our story from our point of view.

  • You play multiple characters who are they (motivations) and how does that challenge you as an actor?

In Mansfield Park I play five different characters both white and black, Aunt Norris, Mary Crawford, Sir Thomas Bertram, Chorus and Mary Prince. Each Character brings something different to the play. The challenge is to go from one character to the next very quickly and yet to keep them individual and recognisable through speech, physicality, and minimal costume changes, without ever leaving the stage.

  • If you could play any role, who would you play?

After just touching on Mary Prince story in this play I have come really admire her and would love to develop her story and play her in a full-length play.

  • What kind of stories do you like see in the theatre?

I want to see the kind of story that makes me think. Whether it is a drama or a comedy, it has to give me something to think about when I leave the theatre. It must make me want to tell friends to go see it and for them get the same feeling too.

  • What has been some of the highlights of your career as an actor?

There have been many great moments in my long career, starting with the excitement of my first West End show just a few months after leaving Rose Bruford College in the musical version of ‘Gone with the Wind’ at Drury Lane theatre. There is doing films with amazing actors like Sean Connery and Susannah York. More recently working with Juliet Stevenson in ‘The Doctor’, the intriguing play by Robert Icke. A recent highlight was doing Inua Ellam’s ‘Three Sisters’ at The National Theatre. Of course, the play I am performing in at the moment, ‘Mansfield Park’ is certainly a great moment for me. We have been on tour to villages in Berkshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, and it has been great to see how this play has been able to open some people’s eyes to new ways of looking at stories they thought they knew.

Your novel based on the true story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Breaking the Maafa Chain tells an important story do you see that coming to the stage or screen?

I would love to see Sarah’s story come to the stage and that is something I am already working on. At the moment, I am writing the sequel as part of my PhD at Kings’ College London. It will be great to be able to show the her full story of a remarkable woman.

Summarise the story of Mansfield’s Park in this version?

Jane Austen’s plot concerns a newly wealthy family who own a plantation in Antigua. Young Fanny Price is sent to live with her aunt and uncle at Mansfield Park where she falls in love with a cousin and is the subject of unwelcome attentions from the scheming Henry Crawford. Eventually she marries her cousin Edmund. Austen wrote her novel at a critical time in the struggle against slavery and it contains many hidden references to it. Tonderai Munyevu and Arne Pohlmeier the co-writers and directors place the stain of slavery in the spotlight by interweaving Fanny Price’s story with that of Mary Prince, the first black woman to publish an autobiography describing her experience as a slave in Antigua.

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What did you like about the script?

The script is clever in the way it opens up some things that Jane Austen hinted at but could not say out loud. It shows that although only hinted at she was aware. It means that in this day and age we should maybe go back and look at our revered classics and see what new readings we can discover.

Not so long ago you became Chair of Trustee at Theatre Peckham what has that been like?

It has been very inspiring to see the work that the theatre does under Suzann McLean the amazing Artistic Director. It is fantastic to be able to work with her and the ret of the staff to give the best to the young people we work with in the academy as well as to the public who come to see some thought-provoking shows at the venue.

Where do you call home?

My home is in Cambridgeshire where my children live but I do have somewhere to stay in London from time to time as I work a lot in London, and I am also back at Uni doing my PhD at Kings College London.