Anita-Joy Uwajeh is an actor whose career spans across film, TV and theatre, currently starring in Phoebe Éclair-Powell’s FURY: an exhilarating play that “takes an unapologetic look at [Sam] the young single mum society has forgotten, living in a Peckham council flat – tackling themes of motherhood, class and social culpability in our increasingly gentrified society.”
If I am to sum up my experience of the show for you; it was an emotional journey, with elements of humor and a lot of character knowledge to gain. The story being told is incredibly necessary and the way it is told is perfectly unbiased. Sam’s story is approached with such depth and attention to detail, it was truly wonderful!
Going to the theatre is a visual narrative experience unlike any other, it is more intimate and performative than going to the cinema or watching your favourite TV series on whatever inch screen you own. You can watch the same play twice and yes, it will be the same story but it will be a different performance to the one you first watched. The theatre allows room for improvisation and audience participation, it is the closest and most interactive that an audience can get with a character in a story. For an actor, the theatre is a place that one really has the freedom to “extend” and “play with their craft.”
Having the caught show on July 11th, I went on to have a wholesome conversation with Anita-Joy in the red leather sofas of one of Soho Theatre’s booths. We talked ancient history, aspirations, feminism, the experience of being a black woman in theatre, why everyone should go to the theatre and the joys of on-screen acting. Of Anita Joy, I learnt that she started acting in her childhood but didn’t pursue it as a career until after she graduated from studying Ancient History and Archaeology. The 17-year-old Anita-Joy felt uninspired in her environment to the point that she stopped “investing [her] time in drama.” It wasn’t until her third year of university that she met an actor who gave her a nudge towards the direction of realising that her dream was something that she could seriously bring to fruition.
I learnt that what inspires her as an actor is her imagination, her “problem” is that it “loves to run wild and drift off into different worlds” and acting gives her the freedom to imagine what her life might be like if she was a different human in a different world. If she wasn’t an actor, she may have been a teacher because “to be at the forefront of somebody’s development is such a vocation”, a phenomenal calling.
In the world that she exists in today, although in the grand scheme of things she considers herself as still being very early in her career, Anita-Joy has discovered that she is passionate about telling stories about women. “Not necessarily women’s relationships with men, but women’s relationships with themselves, women’s relationships with each other [and] their survival because [she] believes we are such resilient creatures.”
As a black woman Anita-Joy is also keen about telling stories from that perspective because it hasn’t been “explored enough, hasn’t been showcased enough and hasn’t been shared enough.” There is a lack of diversity, we’re still lagging behind but on the flipside, “we are hopefully starting to crossover into an era whereby people aren’t so troubled by seeing a middle-class black person on TV because they do exist.”
I wondered if there is a lack of diversity, then surely there must be a lack of equal opportunities also. What has that experience been like for Anita-Joy? “I would say that audition wise, I am aware that as a black woman, the number of auditions that I go to would be in some ways considerably less than my white counterparts.” This could be because there is a shortage of characters written with black women in mind, or it could be an issue at the hands of narrow minded casting directors. “If you hire the best, they don’t care what the best looks like. Those that do, probably shouldn’t be watching it.”
When it comes to career aspirations or goals, Anita-Joy refers to the “phenomenal” Sophie Okonedo and Viola Davis. To the question “would you class yourself as a feminist?” Anita-Joy answered “absolutely.” The certainty in her response led me to delve into what exactly feminism means to her. It is “the idea of equality”, the belief that “if [she] is doing a job, [she] should be respected in the same way as a man who is doing [her] job would be respected.”
Having discussed this, it was a delight to learn that FURY is a very female heavy production. “It’s incredibly empowering to have so many women on board; from the director to the writer, to the main character, to 3 of the 5 characters in the story. Normally, it is the other way ‘round. Lighting design is female, stage manager is female, everyone is female and it’s been such an incredible bubble to be in. To feel that support, to feel that love, to feel that encouragement, to feel that fearlessness.”
Damsel productions are a London-based theatre company who, alongside Soho Theatre, have done a fantastic job with FURY. Their aim is “to bring together female theatre artists, directors, and producers to breathe life into scripts written by women” as well as “to provoke, inspire, shock and, of course, entertain with true and honest representations of the female experience.”
If Fury tackles “themes of motherhood” and follows the trials and tribulations of a female protagonist, why is it so significant that the majority of the team behind it is female? How would things have been different if the production team was predominantly male? Why did this story need “a female touch?” To put it simply, it would’ve been men talking about circumstances that they only have second-hand experience of. This would result in the omission of a lot of important detail. It may lack the understanding of emotions that only women are susceptible to, like how it feels to hold your baby in your arms after 9 months of carrying and 24 hours of excruciating labour.
I personally fear that poignancy of the narrative could be somewhat diluted by patriarchy and misogyny, without spoiling the plot, the male characters in the play do show examples of both. “If it had been male heavy, potentially there are things that might have been missed or might have been read wrongly” says Anita-Joy.
Although FURY (for those we were yet to see it) has now closed, Anita-Joy will be performing in Girls, a play written by Theresa Ikoko “to give a voice to girls abducted in Nigeria and around the world in conflict zones.” It will premiere at Soho Theatre on 27th September, tickets are already available to purchase!