Josie White Talks … ROTTEN

Josie is a writer, actor and producer of colour from Nottingham …

Josie’s creative mission is to shine a spotlight on the lives of women of colour in twenty-first-century Britain, concentrating on how their mental health struggles are continually stigmatised and often ignored. Josie wants to create theatre for the Netflix generation that discusses societal issues that are poignant to millennials. Josie’s previous work includes TRAILBLAZERS, a short play, for Forest Green School, premiering at Hackney Empire. LOVE ME OR DIE, a monologue for ‘Common’ an anthology of new dynamic working-class monologues, published by Team Angelica Publishing, 2022, and ROTTEN.

We spoke to Josie about ROTTEN and working with Riki Beadle-Blair to bring it to life

Please introduce yourself …
I’m Josie White, an LGBTQIA+ writer, actor, and producer of colour from Nottingham. My heritage is Trinidadian and Jamaican on my Mum’s side and British and Irish on my Dad’s. I’m working predominately in theatre at the moment, creating exciting, thought-provoking, and entertaining theatre for young people.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
A journey of learning and growth

What started you on the path to becoming a writer?
It was working as an actor on Rikki Beadle-Blair’s masterpiece, GUTTED that really inspired me. I was fresh out of drama school, where I studied mostly classical text and was playing characters that were usually a lot older than me, and even though they were interesting, I couldn’t fully relate to them. GUTTED is a modern, challenging and thrilling, story about troubled young people growing up and trying not to make the same mistakes as their parents. Hearing Rikki’s inspiration behind the play got me thinking about the stories that I wanted to tell and gave me the confidence to believe that they should be told.

Tell us about your latest project ROTTEN what it’s about and what it means to you personally.
ROTTEN is my first full-length play which I developed under the mentorship of Rikki Beadle-Blair during the pandemic. The play follows three young, regional actresses: Saoirse, Coco, and Sonia as they struggle to survive in London. The electricity’s been turned off, they’re stealing their neighbour’s Wi-Fi connection and are completely broke. Living in the posh block of flats opposite them is an aristocrat/social media influencer, who they spy on every night, through their grotty living room window. One evening has the anti-heroes in an all-new position of power when they spy their neighbour in a compromising position and are later persuaded by Sonia’s boyfriend Ross to blackmail them. But their scheming soon spirals into complete anarchy and it’s every person for themselves!

L-R: Kavita Vyas as Sonia, Narisha Lawson as Coco & Nicola Taggart as Saoirse – ROTTEN

ROTTEN is so close to my heart because it depicts the socio-economic crisis that is happening in Britain right now! The play challenges morality, capitalism, and social media culture, with powerful female roles that break stereotypes and showcase regionality.

What was happening in your world that inspired you to write this …
As a young actor trying to fulfil my dreams, while struggling to make ends meet in London, I became conscious of the huge gap between “the haves” and “the have-nots”. Sitting on the tiny balcony of my council flat that sat directly opposite a multi-million-pound block of apartments, I began to wonder what the lives of the people living in them must be like, and how easy it would be to become obsessed with who they are and what they have.

ROTTEN came out of these observations and I feel holds a mirror up to society, challenging the very make-up of it, by displaying characters that are frustrated and beaten down by their position in the world and desperate to change their circumstances. Saoirse, Coco, Sonia, and Ross continually challenge their morals and principles in ROTTEN, making shocking and at times disturbing decisions in their pursuit of wealth, but is this surprising when in today’s society what used to be classed as luxuries now seem like necessities? And thanks in part to social media and reality TV, young people can easily find themselves in a vicious cycle, where they never feel like they have enough.

How did you work with Rikki Beadle-Blair the director to bring your words to life?
I’ve been extremely privileged to have Rikki mentor me through this project, both dramaturgically and as a friend who has been in the industry for a long time and has built an amazing career. Being able to turn to him for advice has been a gift! Getting ROTTEN to where it is now has taken a lot of hard work and has really been a joint effort between myself, Rikki and our co-producers Emmerson & Ward.

L-R: Kavita Vyas as Sonia, Dan Rainford as Ross, Narisha Lawson as Coco & Nicola Taggart as Saoirse – ROTTEN

As a new playwright, Rikki’s guidance was imperative, he taught me crucial skills and encouraged me to be brave with my writing. I would send scenes to him, he would give me constructive notes and before I knew it, I had a first draft! Rikki encouraged me to get a group of actor friends together via Zoom to read it, so I could hear my work, and this was the most helpful exercise for me. Immediately I was able to hear where I needed to make changes. Another skill Rikki taught me was how to cut text, which is an extremely difficult thing to do as a new writer, who is precious about what they have created but entirely necessary.

Why and how did you incorporate humour and thriller elements into your play while addressing serious topics like the cost-of-living crisis, capitalism, mental health, and social media?
Tackling hard subjects with elements of humour is generally how people cope with harsh realities, and it is a tool I use in ROTTEN and my other work to get audiences comfortable talking about the uncomfortable.

It’s said that you were influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie. What is it about who-dun-its and suspense thrillers that speaks to you? – which Alfred Hitchcock & Agatha Christie films/books are your favourite?
Hitchcock and Agatha Christie have always been huge influences on my work. Although extremely different writers, they both encapsulate to me the great tropes of classic thriller. What I like about their stories is that they always have interesting characters, strong plots, and lots of twists and turns. My favourite Agatha Christie has to be A Murder Is Announced and my favourite Hitchcock is Rear Window.

Highs, lows, solutions …
The biggest highs would have to be when I found out that we’d secured funding to create and tour ROTTEN. It was a long process and writing bids can feel like a never-ending task at times. When I feel like this, I always think it’s best to talk to someone, and just get your thoughts out so that you’re not bottling things up. Manifestation and meditation also really help me.

In terms of lows, I think that in this current economic climate, it’s so hard to create new writing and even harder to put it on. We went through a few funding rejections, and it feels awful when you’ve worked so hard. I think when this happens it’s best to take a moment, breathe, maybe talk to a friend, and then roll your sleeves up and work out what your next step is. It’s ok to feel disheartened but important not to give up.

Narisha Lawson as Coco – ROTTEN

If not this, then what?
I think I’d be a Historian, probably specialising in The War of the Roses. History was one of my favourite subjects at school and I still have a real passion for it.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?
Glad— Sitting in the Garden at my Nana’s house last Sunday. The sun was shining, and it was lovely and warm!

What are you watching right now?
I’ve just finished binge-watching Bodkin on Netflix. I usually love a documentary though. Anything true crime.

What are you reading right now?
I’m re-reading The Little Book of Manifestation.

What are you listening to right now?
I’m into older bands like Queen and The Beatles, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Amy Winehouse recently and falling in love with her music again.

The last thing you saw on stage?
I just saw The Kite Runner. The show was first on in Nottingham over ten years ago and I missed it then, so was thrilled to watch it!

What’s on your bucket list? 
I really want to see the Northern Lights in Iceland

Where’s your happy place?

Who’s the most important person in your life? Who do you rely on the most?
I couldn’t pick one, but it would have to be my family, we’re extremely close and I couldn’t cope without them.

Celebrate someone else (who do you rate right now?)
The five actors in my play, ROTTEN. Kavita Vyas, Narisha Lawson, Sam Butters, Nicola Taggart and Alice Berry! They are all super talented and are killing it on tour at the moment. I feel like a proud Mum every time I watch them!

Celebrate yourself … (make us proud of you)
I’ve struggled with my mental health for a long time, but I feel that I’ve been able to use writing to explore my feelings and hence understand myself and the world around me better. Creating complex characters who don’t always do the “right thing” but you still find yourself drawn to them and wanting them to succeed because they reflect the parts of ourselves we attempt to hide has definitely made me more compassionate to myself and

Whose footsteps are you following in?
That’s a hard one! I’d have to say all the amazing artists and creatives of colour that have paved the way for future generations in this industry

What’s Next?
Taking my play ROTTEN on tour again, which will include a London run!

Where can we find you?
@Josiemwhite (Twitter/X) @Josiemw1 (Instagram)

Where can we see your latest work?
ROTTEN will be touring again this Autumn! Keep an eye on co-producers Emmerson & Ward and director Rikki Beadle-Blair’s twitter (@Emmersonward @RikkiBB) for dates and locations.

ROTTEN Toured until 23rd May 2024


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