Jadesola Odunjo Talks … School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play

Written by the award-winning writer/performer Joycelyn Bioh …

School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play, set in 1986 at Ghana’s prestigious Aburi Girls boarding school follows Queen Bee Paulina and her crew excitedly awaiting the arrival of a Miss Ghana pageant recruiter. With Paulina obviously set to the title things are thrown into disarray when her place is threatened by Ericka – a beautiful and talented new transfer student.

We spoke to one of the cast Jadesola Odunjo about her role in the play …

Please introduce yourself …

Hi, I’m Jadesola Odunjo and I am an actor, dancer and model from Enfield.

Why School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play?

I got the script in my inbox and the audition breakdown, and as soon as I saw it I knew that there was something special about it because I hadn’t seen anything like it before. As I was reading I caught myself laughing out loud because of how hilarious it is and yet the story and dialogue were deeply nuanced. I loved how incredibly relatable the characters were. I was thinking there has to be a way I could be in this, so when it came my way I knew that this was what I’d been waiting for and I had to get involved.

Tell us about your character and what their goal is in the play …

I play ‘Nana‘. She is a sweet, sensitive, and lovable character who embarks on this journey of growth and self-discovery; finding out who she truly is. And we really see that as the play progresses.

Tell us about working with your fellow cast …

What’s so special about working on a production like this is that the cast are incredibly supportive in every manner. And we support each other through the work, even in just day-to-day things that we’re going through individually. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by incredible black women who are everything I aspire to be. They inspire me. I think we all depend on each other, and we are all working towards a collective goal, and it just feels like a team which has been a beautiful experience.

What does the story of School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play mean to you personally?

What is so great about this play is that it’s showing young girls in school simply being. Yes, they’re affected by the outside world which constructs that we see, but in its simplest form, they are just being girls with problems that young people face all the time. And what’s so special about that, is that they aren’t having a homogenised perception imposed on them and they’re all so different which I love. You see so many personalities and that shows the truth. A lot of what they experience, I relate to like many people will. And that’s exciting because that representation matters. It’s also a privilege to tell a story that my mum might not have seen before especially since she went to boarding school in Nigeria so, this is also an ode to her.

Jadesola Odunjo & Company School Girls Or The African Mean Girls Play. Image Credit Manuel Harlan

Tell us about a challenging moment during this project that you had to dig deep to get through.

I don’t think there have been any “challenging” moments per se, but I would say there’s a lot which Nana goes through which requires a lot of support, emotionally, from not only me, as Jadesola but also from the cast. Though she’s a character, she’s very much a person, and I can see a lot of myself and other people in her, so I feel an obligation to protect her. She endures a lot in the play, so I think navigating those emotions, through the help of the girls is definitely something I have to dig deep to get through, for sure.

Tell us a memorable moment working on School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play.
The first thing that comes to mind is our active read-through. It was the first time we did the whole play after our table work and finding our characters. At this point, we’d been together as a cast for 3 days and somehow, something so unique happened and everything just felt right. It was like we’d done it before. It was special. We got such lovely reactions too which showed that it resonated. Plus having Jocelyn Bioh, our incredible writer there with us, meant so much to us. She’s so supportive and we just want to make her proud. From that, we had a feeling that what we had going on was dope. Shout out to Monique (our director) for giving us such freedom to use our instincts throughout that process. She’s the best, man.

Which scene best defines what you love about this project?
Ah man, that’s hard. Okay, there are actually two scenes that define Nana I would say, and they’re both with Queen Bee, Paulina. And through the scenes, Nana has to make a choice and she decides to put herself first which is such a beautiful and powerful moment for her. A real testament to her character and her growth.

Were you a mean girl or a good girl in school? 
I’m not even gonna lie, I was definitely a good girl in school, people might even go as far as to say a goody two shoes but I’m gonna embrace it.

Favourite school memory?

Definitely just being with my mates, and literally growing up together. Our Leavers Ball when we were 18 was definitely a highlight and a point of reflection for me but such a hilarious time too. Loved it.

Considering your career evolution, where does this project sit on your checklist?
This is definitely a pivotal moment for me. To be doing a project like this so early in my career is such a blessing. Not only within a career context but personally, I feel like I’m learning so much and evolving as an actor through this experience. Theatre is a masterclass in the craft and everything I learn now; I’m definitely going to implement for a long time. I feel like through learning and developing who Nana is, I’ve naturally found out more about myself. So, while Nana is discovering, I have been too, which is special, and I try to not take that for granted. In all honesty, this story is for the culture, for people who might not have felt seen and to be a part of that is an honour.

What’s next?

Honestly? Who knows. But that’s the exciting part, I guess. I’m embracing the not knowing nowadays and taking things as they come – trying to be as present as possible.

How do we keep up to date with you and your work?

You can find me on Instagram mostly @jadeodunjo_ but also on Twitter @JadeOdunjo

School Girls; Or The African Mean Girls Play runs Thursday 08 June – Saturday 15 July 2023 @ Lyric Hammersmith


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