Ayesha Antoine is an accomplished actress for both stage and screen.
She is known for portraying Rachel Baptiste in Holby City and most recently appearing in Blank (Donmar Warehouse) and White Teeth (Kiln Theatre). As the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre reopens this summer, Antoine appears in Out West, a night of three one-person plays.
Antoine stars in Go, Girl, written by Roy Williams, which follows Donna, a Westfield security guard and mother to a teenage daughter, who looks for pride and satisfaction in her life during London’s 2020 lockdown. Other plays in Out West include The Overseas Student, written by Tanika Gupta and starring Esh Alladi, and Blue Water and Cold and Fresh, written by Simon Stephens and starring Tom Mothersdale.
We caught up with Ayesha to find out more about Go, Girl and how it feels to be able to finally return to live theatre performance …
Please introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Ayesha Antoine, born in London, my heritage is Dominican, and I am performing in Go Girl, by Roy Williams in Out West at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now …
Very different to a year ago.
After a year of enforced hiatus, how does it feel to be returning to performing live in the theatre in front of an audience?
Surreal and normal at the same time. Which is weird.
Go, Girl is your first one-person play, was it difficult to maintain energy and focus without any other actors to bounce off?
The fact that it’s my first one-person play didn’t worry me as much as the year-long hiatus before it. It was the absence of working the muscles that made me nervous about my memory, my stamina, my concentration. That’s why I did it – to get the muscles working again. I think about these things before I go on stage – ‘Will I struggle?’ ‘Will I forget?’ – But, to be honest, that’s always been part of pre-performance nerves because in live theatre Anything Can Happen. Not having someone to bounce off is really weird, but luckily Roy has written a piece in the style of a stand-up routine, so I’m clearly having a conversation with the audience. Face masks get in the way of the conversation a bit, but we’re adjusting.
Go, Girl depicts a character we don’t often see on stage: a young Black single mother who currently works as a security guard at Westfield. How did you go about building the simultaneous strength and vulnerability of your character?
I recognise so much about Donna so there wasn’t a lot of excess building needed. I recognise using humour to cope with feeling vulnerable. I recognise Donna’s brand of resilience, formed by experiences shared by many Black women – enduring and challenging stereotypes, generating self-esteem in the face of low expectations, and fighting against people’s assumptions. Donna’s strength is embedded in her sense of self and throughout the piece we see her questioning how that has changed.
In some ways, Go, Girl functions as a celebration of Black women – particularly the relationship between Donna and her teenage daughter. Do you see any of yourself in Donna?
Loads. I have definitely gone from feeling like an absolute failure to feeling massive waves of pride over the past year. So many times. I see a lot of my relationship with my mum in Donna and Tianna, particularly in the quality of their bond. I recognise the process of looking back at your own life through a changing filter, challenging fixed ideas of how your life has turned out; who doesn’t? I wish I had as much resilience as Donna.
Over the course of the play, we see Donna trying to make sure her daughter doesn’t make the same mistakes as her but ultimately coming to realise the strength of her daughter. If you had the opportunity to talk to your teenage self, what kind of advice would you give her?
My teenage self was really cool. Like in the geekiest way. I was full of quiet confidence in my quirks and my individuality. I’d tell myself to hold on to that shit. To get louder, quicker. And trust that you could still be braver. But also, you’re perfect, don’t change a thing. Love you.
What is your favourite thing about Go, Girl that you hope the audience also pick up on?
I really appreciate that Donna gets the space to work through some stuff. I hope an audience would enjoy the journey of self-judgment and forgiveness she goes through. Everyone should leave feeling proud of Donna and rethinking any time they ever doubted that a Black woman will save the world!
Over the years, you’ve also starred in some projects you’ve written yourself. If you were writing today, what kind of character would you want to write for yourself to perform?
Before I became an actor I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but the degree was too boring. I would love to play a human rights lawyer who fights the machine and changes the face of ‘law‘ as we know it. When I write, I don’t necessarily write for me to perform anymore. The process of creating characters and relationships inspires me more right now.
Have you got any upcoming projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
The joy of working on a project created and manifested by your people is unreal. I just wanna do that. So, facilitating everything that can make that a reality is my next personal project.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
- A book you have to have in your collection? Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe.
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Defines?! Dunno about that. But an album that has been in my life from birth – my name was taken from it – and I still return to it regularly is Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder.
- A film/TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Do the Right Thing / Little Shop of Horrors.
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? It was probably my Godmother performing at Theatre Royal Stratford East, with the phenomenal BiBi Crew. I remember going backstage and being among all these funny glowing women who remain god-like to me. It was heavenly. I always knew I wanted to be among my own ‘BiBi Crew‘ making work we created and believed in.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad – Watching Serena Williams crying on court. I know she’ll be back, but that was hard to watch. Mad – This bloody useless government fumbling every opportunity to handle this pandemic like grown-ups. Lifting the mask restrictions arbitrarily is not helping anyone feel safer or less confused. It’s maddening. Glad – Watching J’Ouvert by Yasmin Joseph at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Standing in the queue for the ladies, casually wining to the soca playing in the auditorium. Joyful and beautiful work all around. Filled my heart.
Out West is at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre until 24 July, with online streaming from 12-17 July. For tickets and to book: www.lyric.co.uk