Isabel Adomakoh Young is an actor, activist, and writer.
At 8 years old she became a published author with her mother with their children’s book trilogy ‘Lionboy’. The book was adapted by theatre company Complicite in 2014. She’s also founding director of Brainchild, an award-winning multidisciplinary summer festival which launched in 2012, seeking to blur the boundaries between artist and audience.
This month Adomakoh Young is one of three black actresses leading the stage during this year’s NYT West End Rep season. She will be playing the lead role of Lady Macbeth alongside Olivia Dowd as Macbeth in a gender fluid production at the Garrick Theatre.
TBB Talks caught up with Adomakoh Young to find out more…
Introduce yourself …
I’m Isabel Adomakoh Young. My website will tell you I’m an actor, writer, and activist and my Twitter bio says I’m a snack who loves snacks. Take your pick.
You became an actress because…
I decided not to let others’ pessimism stop me from doing what I love. I wanted to be creative, tell stories that matter and change people’s perspectives. Just because not everyone ‘makes it’ in the industry doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make work. So I left my internship and dived on in.
Can you remember the first scene that had the most impact on you?
I loved Mulan as a kid. My favourite scene was where she goes out at dawn and completes the challenge no other soldier could do. All the men wake up and she’s climbed to the top of this tall pole. That really resonated with me, the feeling of being underestimated because of your identity. I guess her dressing as a boy might have influenced my drag king performance too!
Talk about your steps into acting …
I got into character and interactive work in my late teens, performing across the UK with Shotgun Carousel, but it was only at university (while studying English) that I really got into theatre. I was in the first ever all-black student play at Cambridge and that opened doors for me in more productions – meanwhile, I was helping set up Pecs Drag Kings, which became a London-based company. After graduating I did Talawa Theatre Co.’s TYPT programme, signed with a lovely agent, perfected my West Coast accent in Secret Cinema’s ‘Blade Runner‘, then got into NYT Rep!
Tell us about your character Lady Macbeth?
Lady Macbeth is a power-hungry young woman who is besotted with her partner. In a resource-short world where conflicts flare up frequently, she enjoys safety and good reputation through her marriage to Macbeth, a skilled fighter who’s high up in the army. The twist in our production is that Macbeth is also a woman. Once witches prophesy that Macbeth will be Queen, Lady M is determined to make that happen. She’s a wonderful part to play, powerful and dark at the top of the play and totally broken by the end. It’s my first ever Shakespeare play, so I’m thrilled to be starting in the West End.
How did you develop your character?
It felt like a big responsibility when I was cast, but the director Tash Nixon encouraged us to see this as our own production – abridged by Moira Buffini – and to make it our own rather than worrying about what’s come before. We’ve used music a lot to create the world of this show and I decided my Lady M listens to Portishead. We drew out this idea that though Lady M seems bloodthirsty, she’s fairly cosseted until she sees Duncan’s dead body. Moira writes that she returns to the stage ‘changed’afterward, which has been interesting to explore.
There’s significance that you are one of three black actresses leading shows as part of this year’s West End REP, what does it mean to you, and how do you hope it will impact your career?
This is NYT’s most ethnically diverse Rep Company to date, but honestly I just count myself lucky to be among such talent. There are people from all walks of life and all over the country in NYT, which is what makes it such a rich pool of skill and experience. It makes me proud to think that young people who saw any one of the Rep shows would see black women excelling, delivering top quality work and owning the space. Especially Macbeth which they might see as inaccessible – I hope it’ll empower them to engage with Shakespeare and literature more broadly. It’s exciting to see the big companies and venues becoming more flexible with casting, letting these old stories breathe new life in new bodies, and I hope I can be part of that.
After Macbeth, we’re staging To Kill A Mockingbird, directed by Meghan Doyle who founded the Letter Room. I’m really excited to get my teeth into the deep south; all the music and the accents. After that, who knows? Onwards and upwards, as they say.
If you weren’t acting you’d be?
A literary agent. I love reading, editing and spotting new writing talent among submissions. At some point I’ll write something of my own too, once my schedule is a little less punishing.
If you ruled the world …
I’d get rid of tax havens and put the money paid by big business into serving communities – making benefits systems less cruel, creating safe environments for women fleeing domestic violence and increase arts funding. I’d make indefinite detention illegal, I’d make political education mandatory, compel governments to remove systemic obstacles to financially disadvantaged, POC, and differently-abled people getting into positions of power, require bias training for all police forces and consent training for… well, everyone. I’d recognise trans rights and condemn LBGTQIA* discrimination, end-all weapons trade, foster community movements against FGM and male-child preference… oh man, don’t get me started. If only it were that simple, eh?
Macbeth is running at the Garrick Theatre from 20 November – 7 December as part of the National Youth Theatre’s West End Rep Season. Find out more and book tickets here.