Lladel Bryant is a Leeds-based actor and entrepreneur.

This October, Bryant will star in a production of Zodwa Nyoni’s one-man play Nine Lives at London’s Bridge Theatre- a play which follows Ishmael as he seeks sanctuary in the UK after a fresh wave of homophobia threatens his life.

Bryant first performed the part of Ishmael in Leeds Playhouse’s 2014 production of Nine Lives, which was celebrated as “a cracking piece of theatre that offers a glimpse into an issue that’s present in the country and around the world today.” (A Younger Theatre)

We caught up with Lladel to find out how it feels to be reprising the role of Ishmael and why Nyoni’s play continues to be relevant six years later …

Please introduce yourself …

Hey my name is Lladel Bryant, I am a professional actor and entrepreneur.

and a word or a sentence which best describes your life right now

The word which best describes my life right now is, evolving.

As well as being an actor and entrepreneur, you’re also a father – how have you, as a family, negotiated the last couple of months in lockdown? Do you feel like you’ve learned anything new about yourself?

I have definitely come to realise how much I enjoy teaching the next generation. During the intense homeschooling period and believe me, it was intense, I made a point of exploring subjects such as black history, emotional intelligence, and knowledge of self with my son. As a family, we have definitely made the most of the quality time which lockdown has provided us with. Quite early on both myself and my wife saw it as a great opportunity to practice being more patient with one another and our children. From homeschooling to gardening, we’ve had the pleasure of doing all of these things together.

So, the first time I saw you act was years ago on the Chicken Shop Shakespeare YouTube Channel – which I absolutely loved by the way. How did the idea for this come about? 

Chicken Shop Shakespeare came about when myself and co-founder Tyron were out and about around Leeds filming some monologue material for our showreels. We had been shooting contemporary monologues all day when we decided to take a break and get a bite to eat. We ended up in a local Chicken Shop, whilst we were eating, Tyron turned to me and the cameraman, and said.  “You know, what boys I’m gonna try a little Shakespeare next”. Once Ty had done his speech, I noticed people in the shop seemed interested. So I decided to throw a little Shakespeare down myself. Before we knew it people were congregating outside the shop, probably anticipating that we were shooting a grime video or something. Right then we knew what we were onto something, and so continued to produce work under the name Chicken Shop Shakespeare.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen theatres begin to create digital content. To an extent, digital theatre is what you’ve been doing for years with Chicken Shop Shakespeare. Do you think theatres can make better use of digital platforms?

It’s been great to see so many theatres moving towards digital curating. I feel that theatres can make better use of digital platforms, for sure. It’s a great way to connect both classical and contemporary literature with hard to reach audiences, young and older. Let’s face it, theatre isn’t always affordable and accessible. It’s not made, produced, or performed with everybody in mind. Although I’m not naive in thinking that everything is for everyone, I do feel like this digital shift means that theatre makers not only have to think outside of the box, they also have to be prepared to make a whole new box which enables them to meet their audiences where they are.

Lladel Bryant in Nine Lives. Photo Richard Lakos.png

You previously performed Nine Lives in 2014 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, how does it feel to be reprising the role of Ishmael, and performing live at The Bridge theatre?

It feels as exciting and nerve-wracking to be performing at The Bridge as the very first time I performed the show. Zodwa Nyoni’s poetic writing style and attention to detail make my job so much easier. However, that also means that I want to do justice to the text. Whilst I can really enjoy playing Ishmael and feel that I have a good grasp of him as a character, I also feel a deep responsibility to be authentic and honest in my work. The Bridge is looking after me brilliantly and I am looking forward to seeing some of the other shows in our season.

Nine Lives follows Ishmael as he flees from his home, where a fresh wave of homophobia threatens his life and seeks sanctuary in the UK. While the world has changed a lot since your last performance of the play, what is the particular importance of this story today?

One of the things that has remained particularly important to me is how the piece explores the human condition. Subject matters such as isolation, loneliness, and belonging are directly addressed in the play through the multitude of characters. It feels like now more than ever people are experiencing, and I hope in turn becoming, more willing to speak about their own experiences, where these challenges and issues are concerned. Also, I feel that there has been a real shift in consciousness. With more people becoming woke to the fact that human rights are for all, not just a select few, at a select time. With that being said I am proud to be so heavily involved in a show which has been fighting for the rights of asylum seekers and the LGBTQ+ community. Whilst addressing subject matters which are reliable regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or class.

This summer we’ve seen a lot of theatres stating their support for Black Lives Matter. As an actor, what particular changes would you like to see take place within the theatre industry, and do you think theatres have started enacting these changes?

In my opinion, there are changes that need to take place at all levels across the theatre industry. From a grassroots level to a decision making and managerial level, accessibility and progression opportunities remains an issue. It’s no longer just about creating work that appeals to a certain demographic for a short period of time because a subject matter is trending. It’s more important that theatres speak directly to the communities that they are there to serve and ask them what they need from an artistic perspective, as well as providing opportunities for people from all walks of life to contribute to how the world of theatre works. To be honest with you I don’t know if theatres have started enacting these changes. If they have I certainly haven’t caught wind of it just yet. 

You’re also an entrepreneur and, on your newly-designed website, particularly highlight your desire to empower a generation of enterprising and entrepreneurial actors. Why do you think it is important for actors to also be entrepreneurs?

The reason behind why I think it’s important for actors to be entrepreneurial is a lot to do with my own personal story. I left drama school in 2013 about to become a father. I had plenty of skills in my actors’ toolbox, yet I knew nothing about the business of acting and had no idea how I was going to provide for my family. I feel that many actors like myself, get into the business of acting and aren’t given the business tools and acumen they need to survive and provide.

An example of your entrepreneurial work is your Monologue Challenge – tell us more about it

My Monologue Challenge is all about me utilising my acting skills and knowledge to help businesses connect with customers through simple yet effective marketing monologues. Businesses can sponsor me to do a monologue about a new product or service they are launching. As well as being a creative project, MMC also has a creative pricing structure, and so for each monologue I produce, the price goes up by £10.  MMC enables and empowers me to begin looking at myself as a business rather than just another actor who is waiting for the phone to ring.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

One of the projects I aim to get up and running in the next 1-2 years is taking my experiences from MMC and sharing them with my fellow actors through an online course that guides and supports them through their own entrepreneurial journey. I am also writing a drama, based loosely on my personal experiences of being an actor, who part-times as a food delivery and taxi driver to keep the wolves away from the door. Another project I am currently researching and developing is about Pablo Fanque, a circus master and equestrian horse trainer. A Black man who owned infamous circuses in the Victorian era and is buried in my home town, Leeds.

Getting to know you

  • A book you have to have in your collection – The Holy Bible, The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson, and BLACK BRITISH HISTORY Black Influences on British Culture (1948 to 2016) by Mr Robin Walker, Ms Vanika Marshall, Ms Paula Perry, Mr Anthony Vaughan
  • A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to dateOne Love – Bob Marley
  • A film / TV show that you will watch whenever it’s on repeatedlyThe Great Debaters (2007)
  • The first play you saw and what it meant to you / and or reminds you why you’re in this businessElmina’s Kitchen. I saw Kwame Kwei-Armah live in this show, at what was then West Yorkshire Playhouse. When I went to school the next day I was super gassed about it and my teacher suggested I write Kwame a letter. I did exactly that and my guy called my house phone and spoke to my mum. It was the person behind all of the lights, the stage, the camera, and the action that inspired me to become a part of the business. As an actor, I have an amazing opportunity to connect with people both on and off the stage.

Lladel Bryant appears at the Bridge Theatre in Zodwa Nyoni’s Nine Lives in repertoire from 22nd – 31st October 2020. Find out more here.