Having recently graduated from Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Justice Ritchie has since starred in Dear Elizabeth (Gate Theatre, 2021) and is currently starring as Roger/ Runaku in Ryan Calais Cameron’s new play Human Nurture.
From the writer of Typical and For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, Human Nurture examines the relationship between Roger and Harry – two friends whose bond is so strong they could be brothers. They share the same food, music, laughs, even dreams – but not race. Roger is black and Harry is white…but what does that matter, right? When Roger is rehomed, Harry is left behind in the care system, and these brothers start to walk down different paths. When Roger returns to celebrate Harry’s birthday, his new name Runaku isn’t the only change, and this dream reunion becomes much more complicated.
We spoke to Ritchie to find out more about Roger and what audiences can expect from Human Nurture…
Please introduce yourself…
Yoo, I’m Justice, Jamaican (although I recently did an ancestry test and the kid’s Nigerian) …. I would describe what I do as God’s work. I’m given the opportunity to enter people’s imaginations and that’s a power not to be understated – there’s a real change you can inspire in a person’s life.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.
So, you recently graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. What was it like as an actor graduating into the Covid-era theatre industry?
Personally, I’m blessed, because I secured a contract with the BBC radio company before graduating with a fantastic actress and classmate – Grace Cooper Milton; so went straight into employment – one where working remotely was wholly possible and encouraged. Nonetheless on the tour now, for sure Covid is ever-present, venues requiring a negative lateral flow for every day of rehearsal/performance is testament to that. Moreover, Film/production companies are increasingly requiring actors to be Fully vaxed to even be considered for a role. It’s a whole new world out there.
Human Nurture is one of the first plays you have performed in since graduating. How did you find out about the play? And was there anything in particular about the play that made you want to get involved?
So, my lovely agents, Lucy Johnson & Mary Fitzgerald assisted by Ollie Bazeley sent over the script and brief asking if I was interested and wanted to audition; it was the script that tipped it for me – The script was dope! – it’s Ryan Calais Cameron so why wouldn’t it be? The character of Runaku had a vocabulary and reasoning and way of communicating that I wished I had at the age of He was saying things I wished I had said to friends – or had the energy and strength to.
What, for you, are the key themes explored by Human Nurture?
Ooooh without using too many keywords: Brotherhood, Race, Classism, Racial dating preferences, radicalism, loss – just so much.
You play the character Roger. Are there any ways in which you identify with this character?
I think we both have bundles of energy and really big hearts. Above all, however, we have the shared experience of being a Black Man in this country – I breathe as well as understand his frustrations and vulnerabilities in certain moments.
In the play, Roger ends up changing his name to Runaku. Justice is a pretty powerful name. Do you think that names – especially within the Black community – have particular importance?
Yes!. I feel that there has been, before my generation, a move within the diaspora, to change/shorten a name or adopt another western name in order to fit in. Teachers butchering African names in schools, or the “I won’t even try and pronounce this” comments, or even the bias on something like a job application or bank loan has contributed to this. A very conscious desire to assimilate. But now, like Runaku, I see a reclaiming of a Given name, however many letters it is – because it is powerful. it is yours. A name carries meaning, tradition, Heritage. And if a tongue can’t pronounce it, then with all due respect – that’s on you.
With For Black Boys, Ryan Calais Cameron developed particularly poignant characterisations of Black men and brotherhood. Do you also feel there’s a certain sensitivity with which Calais Cameron has crafted your character of Roger/ Runaku? How did you develop this character in the rehearsal room?
The beauty of Ryan’s work is that he definitely writes for actors. Yes, there is a myriad of idiosyncrasies and rhythms written into the character of Runaku, owing to this sensitivity that you’ve identified as part of Ryan’s brilliance in forming character. But there is also so much space and freedom within the form. Up until the second week of rehearsal, the script was still being adapted and worked on, so the development of character came from being up in space with Lucas, playing and physicalising. But by no means is development done. Every performance is an opportunity to refine or dig deeper into a moment – be it a few lines or a particular section.
At the end of March, Human Nurture transfers to Soho Theatre. Can audiences expect any changes between the Sheffield Theatres and the Soho Theatre run of the play?
For sure – with a tour or any performance that has an extended run, I’m able to refine and play and get deeper with the work. I think audiences can expect from both Lucas Button and me, a real studied and learned command of our characters that can only come with time and experience having been in their skin for such a long period of time, thinking and breathing their thoughts.
Have you got any other projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
Justice Ritchie – keep an eye out for the name, I’m going to be everywhere soon, God willing.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
A book you have to have in your collection? Tim LaHaye – Spirit Controlled Temperament
A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Twenty X Visiion (or TXV) – With A Side Of Mash; I was mix engineer and lyricist on this one so it’s got a part of me inside. I’m also a huge Blxst fan, so the Sixtape 2 with Bino Rideaux is my bread and butter man.
A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Disney’s Aladdin – the old school version. Also on the other end of the spectrum the Resident Evil franchise. I love a good zombie movie.
The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)?
Honestly, my earliest memory of seeing a professional stage production, I was not at all impressed, I won’t name it because that’s bad vibes, but I remember going on a school trip to the National when I was a kid and thinking this just ain’t it.
What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? I’m a big Tottenham fan and I like to watch the full matches- and if I can’t, I will avoid all social media, YouTube and friends so I can get away from the final score till I’m able to watch it. I was doing so well for the Man City game away from home and for some reason I found myself reading a YouTube thumbnail with the scoreline, telling me Harry Kane has scored last minute. I was happy but much more annoyed that I had found out the score before I was ready.
Human Nurture plays at Soho Theatre from Tuesday 22nd-Saturday 26th March. Book tickets and find out more here.