Olivier Award winner Sheila Atim returns to the Finborough Theatre and reunites with writer-director Ché Walker, who gave her early career breaks as both an actor and a composer. In our featured interview, Sheila discusses how the different aspects of her creativity feed off one another, her two-fold contribution to the European premiere of Walker’s Time Is Love / Tiempo es Amor and why it’s an ideal follow-on from her Emilia at The Globe. Time to get booking!
Blaz returns from prison, but something ain’t right. His lifelong love Havana Cortez is keeping a secret. His old partner Karl seems to know what it is. Havana’s best friend Rosa hates him even more than usual, but this was not always the case. And the detective who locked him up can’t stop with the women. Serena The Sex Worker is our ethereal guide to this menacing world – but why are there pterodactyls overhead?
Playwright and director Ché Walker returns to the Finborough Theatre, where he has directed six previous productions. Time Is Love / Tiempo es Amor has original music by Sheila Atim, an Olivier Award winner for her performance in Girl from the North Country, who also plays Rosa in the European premiere. Atim is joined in the London production by Gabriel Akuwudike, Benjamin Cawley, Cary Crankson, Sasha Frost and Jessica Ledon. Ledon also featured in the original cast in Los Angeles.
Time Is Love / Tiempo Es Amor runs from 1 to 26 January 2019 at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are priced £16-20. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Talking to… Sheila Atim
Sheila Atim has previously appeared in Ché Walker’s productions of Klook’s Last Stand (Park Theatre) and The Lightning Child (Shakespeare’s Globe), and has previously appeared at the Finborough in Rachel. For her performance in Bob Dylan Musical Girl from the North Country, Atim won Best Supporting Actress in a Musical at the 2018 Olivier Awards, the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Newcomer and the Clarence Derwent Award.
Atim’s many other stage acting credits include Othello (Shakespeare’s Globe), Babette’s Feast (Print Room at the Coronet), Les Blancs (National Theatre), Julius Caesar and Henry IV (Donmar Warehouse), The Tempest (Donmar Warehouse and St Anne’s Warehouse, New York), The Interrogation of Sandra Bland (Bush Theatre), Volpone, Love’s Sacrifice and The Jew of Malta (Royal Shakespeare Company) and Hopelessly Devoted (Paines Plough).
Most theatregoers know you best as an actor. How did you get into composing?
I have always been musical since I was a child. I learned instruments, I sang, I participated in school musicals. In fact, I thought I was going to be a professional singer-songwriter before turning to acting. It’s always been a huge part of my life and a lot of my professional acting work. Experimenting with composing came through Ché asking me to write pieces of music for one of his plays The Etienne Sisters, and subsequently for his short films. It wasn’t something I’d considered, but I enjoyed having to write music for a brief that wasn’t always for me personally and that wasn’t necessarily a song with lyrics.
Do you have a preference?
The composing is still a very new endeavour for me so I consider myself to be in the early days of exploration. I don’t have a preference. In fact, I need the symbiosis of the two. It keeps me on the ball, and I always feel bereft when I’ve neglected one or the other for too long. Whether I realised it or not, both aspects of my creativity were running side by side my whole life, and now I think I’m finding a way to make them work together.
What does music add to a play?
Good music and sound design really locks an audience into a piece. Similarly with good lighting. It helps to create the transportive environment within which the audience can completely jump into the story. I’m a firm believer that these things have a role in a production like an extra character almost. If you’re going to include music or sound, commit to it. It shouldn’t be treated as an add-on or a last-minute sprinkling of something extra. It has to be woven in. Good directors will know or feel the role they want their music to play in the piece.
How did you first get involved in Time Is Love/Tiempo es Amor?
Ché initially sent me the script asking me to turn it into an opera, so I was really relieved when this opportunity arose to just do it as a play first. He asked if I wanted to act in it or write the music. I asked if I could do both. And I’m glad I did because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed wearing both hats.
How did you go about composing music for it?
Ché lived in LA for years so I tried to create sound that echoed the visual painting he had set out in his text. Our set is minimal, but the ideas are huge so I needed something that complemented the closeness of the Finborough but the vastness of the language. I had to get a head start because I’m also acting so we’d both compiled separate playlists with hundreds of songs – like a sound mood board. Then I just sat down and started.
Tell us about your character in the play.
Rosa is Havana’s best friend and is like Emilia in Othello but with more complexity and an LA flavour. Having just played Emilia at the Globe months ago, I can say that, even though the parallels are clearly there, Rosa does feel like a completely new person. So I do feel like I’m on fresh ground even so.
Why do you like to work with Ché Walker?
His language always captures the flavour of an environment as well as the characters themselves and he creates safe, fun and encouraging rehearsal rooms, which can only get the best out of you. He also taught me at Wac Arts and encouraged me to act more by casting me in his play The Lightning Child, so I feel a sense of familiarity when working with him.
Despite not being a musician himself, Ché is incredibly musical and has a deep love for and connection with it. And we’ve built up a shorthand, I think. The playlists we made included music from numerous genres and artists covering a wide range of sounds, tempos and timbres. But it was about all the feeling they evoke so it still made sense to us.
Why should audiences come to see Time Is Love?
Although it’s set in LA and the characters are in some ways defined by that, the stories are universal. I believe the play was originally written for cockney Londoners but Ché’s time in LA transformed it. The cast is made up of brilliant actors, who are not only good friends of mine but whom I have admired for a very long time and am glad I finally get to work with. And it’s 90 minutes straight through – everyone loves that.
What’s next for you after this?
I always think I’m going to have a break, and it never happens because something comes up that I can’t turn down. But I’m really going to try and force myself to do that. So, we’ll see.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to say a big thank-you to composers and sound designers Adam Cork, Pete Malkin and Simon Hale, who have been very generous with their time and encouragement and have influenced me more than they realise. I am a huge admirer of their work, and they are always in the back on my mind when I sit down to write something new.