Two thousand years ago, Ovid’s Heroides gave voice to the isolated women of myth, by writing an imaginary letter from each of his heroines.
Today, fifteen amazing female and nonbinary writers have used Ovid’s original letters as inspiration for their own new plays to give these women the voices they never had.
If you are not sure of the name you will definitely recognise her face, Doña Croll has graced us with her presence in theatre and television for many years, who can forget Pearl McHugh from Family Affairs or Sister Grace Gittens in Brothers and Sisters, with roles in Casualty, Doctors and many more, Croll notably played the first black Cleopatra on the British stage in Talawa theatre company’s production of William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra (1991).
As one of the 15 actresses taking part in 15 Heroines, Doña Croll gives us her perspective on her character Phaedra and the new way in which we must now engage in theatre ...
Hello Doña can you please introduce yourself to our audience?
My name is Doña Croll. I’m a Jamaican born actress, but I’ve lived in England since the fifties.
Please share a word or sentence that best describes your life right now.
In 15 Heroines you play Phaedra, can you tell us about the character and what steps you took to bring her to life?
Yes, Phaedra, is a woman who was doomed by the gods to fall in love with her stepson. I took the same steps to form this character, as I do with all the characters I play; a lot of research and imagination.
How does performing the piece as a monologue support the themes?
The writer of my piece Timberlake Wertenbaker has chosen to look at how society ‘others‘ people. Phaedra is part human, part bull. I think performing the piece as a monologue was really out of necessity at this particular time.
In what ways has the character Phaedra been transported from the classic text to the 21st century?
The theme is the same, older woman, younger man trope. Something that is still taboo in today’s society.
The play will be filmed live at Jermyn Street Theatre, an online production with no physical audience. What’s it been like having to adjust to this new way of performing for the stage?
Filming in the theatre is anathema to me. There is already an art form for actors moving on camera, it’s called film. Performing without an audience is like swimming using only one arm. There’s a give and take between actors and audience, and for me, without it, it’s not really theatre.
You’ve had a consistent and extensive career across theatre, television, film, and radio. What are some of your stand out experiences that have reinforced why you got into acting in the first place?
I went into acting because I enjoyed it and my teachers thought I was good at it. I’ve had many stand out experiences, but my overriding reason for working is because I love learning new things. There’s always more to learn in this profession. I love a challenge. A fifteen-minute monologue like this is a challenge. I’ve never done that before.
Black actors have historically had to fight to be cast in roles that are less stereotypical, but we are gradually seeing a shift, especially now with us telling our own stories. We have writers and directors such as Sheila Nortley and Steve McQueen in film and TV; in 15 Heroines Adjoa Andoh is one of the directors – who are giving us the stories we deserve. How has it been for you as an actress seeing this transition? Are you hopeful that this is finally it?
Personally, I salute and thank every black actor that fought to be cast against type. Their sacrifice meant I had less to deal with, and I guess the way I have worked means that young people now have less to deal with too. We’ve always had brilliant directors like Horace Ove and Menelik Shabazz, who paved the way for people like Steve Mc Queen and Sheila Nortley. I’d like to see the bar being lowered for us though. Idris Elba, David Harewood, David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, etc, they need to have the careers that Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant have here, and not have to move to the U.S.
How has life changed for you this past year? Have you learned anything new about yourself through this pandemic?
What I learned in lockdown was how much I hate housework. Also, how self-sufficient I am. I can get on with reading books, keeping myself fit and healthy (in case I get the virus), but it was the housework that defeated me.
What’s next for you?
I am directing a student production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection? – At the moment, my favourite book is one by Kei Miller called Augustown.
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Picking music is always hard, but if anyone sends me a Stevie Wonder track, I can’t delete it, I have to listen because it always reminds me of some point in my life.
- A film/TV show that you have watched/can watch repeatedly? – I’m currently watching Schitt’s Creek on Netflix, for the sheer theatricality of it and the way the actors have taken control and developed the characters. I think it’s a marvellous piece of work.
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? – The first thing I remember seeing was a production of A Doll’s House by Ibsen. I was absolutely thrilled by the storytelling and how it affected me in the audience. It gave me confidence and yearning to do that kind of work.
- What’s made you sad this week? – Sad, Sean Connery’s passing. Mad Kemi Badenoch. Glad, My niece is pregnant
15 Heroines will be streamed from 9-14 November 2020 at the Jermyn Street Theatre. For more information and book your tickets here.