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Sheila Atim interview: ‘The government could do with empowering people to get in the driving seat, particularly those who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance.’

In April, Olivier Award winning Actor Sheila Atim said that she wanted to see more women ‘who look like her’ winning Olivier awards. Atim also warned that the industry should not “get complacent” about diversity, saying there is “always work to do”.

Atim is positive about developments but also direct about the pressing importance of diversity on and off stage. “I’m seeing a lot more of friends getting great roles and I’m seeing a lot more of my non-white friends in stronger positions to create work,” says Atim, 27.

Sheila Atim at Olivier Awards 2018

We talk about representation, in all its forms, on and off stage. “Representation is the perfect word,” she agrees. “It is not just the representation on stage. The reality is until you get to the top level you are the last person – as the actor – to come on board a project. In terms of how the shots are called and before we get to the casting process, we need to look at shifting the culture of that group,” Atim says.

“There is definitely a momentum building to take control of our own careers, you can look at it as progress,” she says. “Ultimately, I think it is important that those people are in that space and are aware of the disparities. They have a responsibility to create a channel and have a position where they can genuinely call some shots. If I reach that point, I’m not going to sit there by myself. I will try and do that to make sure I facilitate others – you can’t just talk about it – every forward motion has equal and opposite reaction.”

In 2017 Atim starred as Marianne in Conor McPherson’s stunning Bob Dylan musical Girl From The North Country, taking Dylan’s music and giving it a new spin. This year she took home the best actress in a supporting role in a musical Olivier Award for her exquisite performance.

Arinze Kene, Sheila Atim in Girl From The North Country, 2017

She brightens when I ask what that whirlwind was like. I tell her that she owes me an apology for breaking my heart. “I can’t overstate how special that job was and to be able to share it with the people that we shared it with,” she says, cheerfully. “It was like a weird dream that was happening to us all. It felt like one of those moments where I’d say – everything about this is right –everyone gets it – this is it. That is why when people tell me they enjoyed it so much, I still feel moved,” she adds.

We discuss patronage; those privileged few in positions of power who control appointments and decisions. She says: ‘We have to allow people to stand on their own two feet and make sure that everyone’s voices are being heard – this is a larger conversation to do with allyship; you have to allow us to take the steering wheel – otherwise we will remain in a position where we are at someone else’s mercy.”

Now she is starring in an independent film – as shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian in a modern screen adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night by Shanty Productions – an independent film production company, co-founded by Rakie Ayola and Adam Smethurst. The play has been adapted for the screen to reflect multicultural Britain today.

Does she see the 400-year-old play as a comedy? “It is a comedy but when I was filming my sections – I was not experiencing comedy,” she exclaims.

Sheila Atim in Shanty Productions Twelfth Night

“There is humour in the conceit of Viola and Sebastian being twins and people thinking that they’re dead, however, the distress they are feeling is very real: Viola thinks her brother is dead and assumes an image of her brother and is worried about her currency of being a woman – that is a really sad story! She has someone who has fallen in love with her but is trying to facilitate a relationship – similarly for Sebastian. It was interesting playing both those characters and seeing the film and being reminded that it is a funny film – it was a great experience. Truly. Around the time we filmed it there had been a lot in the media around the refugee crisis – which this does give nods to. Even now, it feels timely.”

Atim is no stranger to Shakespeare – in 2016 she performed in Phyllida Lloyd‘s acclaimed all-female Shakespeare trilogy at the Donmar. Recently she starred in Othello as Emilia, alongside Mark Rylance, at Shakespeare’s Globe. Does she see herself doing more of the Bard’s work in the future? “I do want to do more,” she says. “However, I feel interspersing Shakespeare with other stuff is great because then it gives me a chance to not get cynical and get back to it,”.

Sheila Atim in Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar

“If I stayed in that classical world for too long, though, I wouldn’t be able to marry the good things that come with dealing a piece of work that is 400 years old,” says Atim.

“I don’t believe in loading every production with a concept. I do believe that when you go into a project you have to be very clear about what it is your trying to explore. I think for it to really be worth it – otherwise there is no point in putting on these plays –when I want to be in a Shakespeare play I’m trying to provoke something.”

Atim has been particularly vocal about the importance of a creative curriculum in our state schools. She highlighted this recently when she visited her old school, The Coopers’ Company and Coborn School to speak about the importance of Drama. When I ask her thoughts on new research published that found almost a third of children did not realise that Shakespeare was a playwright and half of secondary pupils have not been to the theatre with school, she says: “I’ll tell you why I find that alarming – not because I think everyone should know who Shakespeare is for any ideological reason. What confuses me about those figures are that Shakespeare is everywhere. There are modern adaptations, films, revivals and we have two fantastic theatres that are dedicated to his work: The RSC and The Globe,”.

“I understand the strain that schools are under – my own school was nearly forced to cut it’s A level drama and music courses because of funding cuts. The message from our current government is one that feels that the arts are a luxury. But art is all around us –the design of a book cover, galleries, music -you can’t escape it. You can try and dress it up and make it for a certain group of people but that is not the case. I find that really worrying because the cultural experience opens up so much for people,” says Atim.

I ask Sheila if there’s anything she’d like to add? “Oh, that’s a good question.”

She thinks for a moment.

“I know that Brexit is coming up but the arts could do with more money, more investment” she says frankly. “The government could do with empowering people to get in the driving seat, particularly those who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance– they can be there and they deserve to be there – charity is great – but we need to allow people to build their own agency. It cannot be forever the case that the arts are waiting for handouts.”

Twelfth Night by Shanty Productions is available to download and watch now on Amazon 

Girl From The North Country West End transfer announced

Girl From The North Country packshot

Due to phenomenal demand following a sell-out, critically acclaimed run at The Old Vic, Bob Dylan’s and Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country comes to the West End for a strictly limited season.

Brought to life by an exceptional company of actors and musicians, award-winning playwright Conor McPherson beautifully weaves the iconic songbook of Bob Dylan into this new show full of hope, heartbreak and soul.

Duluth, Minnesota. 1934. A community living on a knife-edge huddle together in the local guesthouse.

The owner, Nick, owes more money than he can ever repay, his wife Elizabeth is losing her mind and their daughter Marianne is carrying a child no one will account for. And, when a preacher selling bibles and a boxer looking for a comeback show up in the middle of the night, things start to spiral beyond the point of no return…

An instant classic’ The Times *****
Piercingly beautiful’ The Independent *****
Conor McPherson weaves magic with Bob Dylan’s songs’ The Observer *****
‘Dylan’s songs expand the emotional palette: direct and gnomic, raging and desiring’

The Sunday Times ****

Conor McPherson said:

“Working with this stunning cast and the incredible music of Bob Dylan at The Old Vic has been an amazing pleasure and privilege. I’m delighted that audiences will continue to have the opportunity to enjoy our show as we move into the West End. I’d like to thank everyone who has brought Girl from the North Country to life and I look forward hugely to our next steps in this intriguing journey.”

Conor McPherson is an acclaimed writer and director. He was born in Dublin in 1971 and attended University College Dublin where he began to write and direct.

Stage plays include Rum & VodkaThe Good ThiefThis Lime Tree BowerSt Nicholas, The Weir (Olivier, Evening Standard, and Critics Circle Awards), Dublin CarolPort AuthorityShining City (Tony Award nominated), The Seafarer (Tony, Olivier and Evening Standard Award nominated), The Veil, and The Night Alive (New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, Olivier, Evening Standard and Lucille Lortel Award nominated). Adaptations include Franz Xaver Kroetz’s The Nest, and August Strindberg’s The Dance of Death.

Screen credits include the screenplay for the BBC series Paula, broadcast earlier this year.

Bob Dylan is one of our culture’s most influential and ground-breaking artists. Born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941; self-taught on piano, guitar and harmonica, he travelled to New York City in 1961, quickly establishing himself as an explosive performer in the Greenwich Village music scene.

More than half a century later, Dylan continues to perform almost 100 concerts each year. He has released more than 50 albums and written over 600 songs. He’s sold more than 125 million records and is the holder of 11 Grammy Awards. His songs have been covered more than 6000 times by artists as diverse as Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Guns N’ Roses, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Adele. He is also an accomplished visual artist and author, and in 2016 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature – the first songwriter to receive such a distinction.

The Old Vic is London’s independent not-for-profit theatre, creating world class entertainment on an international scale. Through our eclectic and adventurous work on stage, projects with young people, employability programmes, digital outreach, all-day café and late night cocktail bar, The Old Vic under Artistic Director Matthew Warchus is an exciting and inviting place to be. We trade in creative imagination. It is the commodity that will be most prized tomorrow and the reason why The Old Vic is as vital today as it was in 1818 when it first opened its doors.

Writer & Director                                                                                      Conor McPherson

Music & Lyrics                                                                                            Bob Dylan

Designer                                                                                                        Rae Smith

Orchestrator, Arrangements & Musical Supervisor                    Simon Hale

Lighting                                                                                                          Mark Henderson

Sound                                                                                                             Simon Baker          

Movement Director                                                                                  Lucy Hind

Casting Director                                                                                         Jessica Ronane CDG

Casting to be announced soon.

Today, Sony Music also announce the vinyl release of The Original London Cast Recording of Girl from the North Country. Released on the Silvertone label, and already available on CD, download and streaming services, the double vinyl will be available from 15th December. It is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

The Old Vic’s production of Girl from the North Country is produced by Tristan Baker & Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment, Steven Lappin, Sony Music Entertainment UK and David Mirvish.

BOX OFFICE INFORMATION

Noël Coward Theatre

St Martin’s Lane

London WC2N 4AU

Box office number: 0844 482 5141

Website: www.girlfromthenorthcountry.london

Dates: Friday 29 December 2017 – Saturday 24 March 2018

Press Night: Thursday 11 January 2018

Performance Times: Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm

Ticket Prices: Prices are £12.50, £20.00, £30.00, £52.50 and £67.50

Over 150 tickets for each performance will be £20 or under

Social media handles:

Twitter @dylanmusical

 

Hashtags:

#NCGirl

 

The Old Vic and Sony Music Entertainment announce the release of the Official London Cast Recording of Girl from the North Country.

Girl From The North Country packshot
Girl From The North Country packshot

Girl From The North Country packshot

The Old Vic and Sony Music Entertainment today announced the release of the Official London Cast Recording of Girl from the North Country. Featuring lyrics and music by Bob Dylan, the album was recorded at the iconic Abbey Road Studios and will be available to buy, download, and stream on 29 September 2017.

Girl from the North Country opened at The Old Vic in July to 5-star reviews and runs until 7 October 2017.

 The album is available to pre-order now on Amazon.

 “A superb cast use Bob’s back catalogue to glorious effect in Conor McPherson’s astonishing cross-section of hope and stoic suffering in Depression-era Minnesota”

***** The Guardian

“This is not, just to set the record straight, Bob Dylan the Musical. You don’t need to know his songs to fall for this play by Conor McPherson, which includes 20 of them. But if you do know them well, as I do, then there are moments when you can just close your eyes and melt into the night”

***** The Times

“This is Dylan like we’ve never heard him before, 20 songs sculpted into plaintive but beautiful new arrangements by Simon Hale. Some numbers are familiar, others less so, but nearly all are delivered so hauntingly well by the 20-strong company that they send shivers down the spine as we hear the lyrics afresh”

***** Evening Standard

“Henderson’s rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone” is laceratingly lovely, performed with vocal might and moral heft”

***** The Independent

“Girl from the North Country is one of the most transporting shows I have seen in years…I came away feeling that Dylan has been writing not a series of songs but an unfolding chronicle”

***** The Observer

“Dylan’s songs expand the emotional palette: direct and gnomic, raging and desiring”

***** The Sunday Times

“The arrangements – by Simon Hale – are ravishing”

***** Time Out

“The effect, as dialogue and song bleed in and out of each other in a fluid, dream-like piece of theatre, is sublime”

**** Metro

“Ballads of Bob make for a Dylan delight”

**** Daily Mail

“The music really makes it. Dylan’s great songs will have you singing into the back of your hand…Dylan fans have no choice but to grab their tickets”

**** The Mail On Sunday

 “Dylan’s songs illuminate the action and the characters at various intervals…it works beautifully”

**** The Daily Express

 “You don’t need to be into Bob Dylan’s music to get bursts of pleasure from Conor McPherson’s new play. But if you do happen to be a Dylan fan, boy are you in for a treat”

**** Radio Times

Written and directed by Conor McPherson, Girl from the North Country is aptly set in Bob Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. It’s 1934 and a community who are living on a knife-edge soon huddle together in the local guesthouse. The owner, Nick, owes more money than he can ever repay, his wife Elizabeth is losing her mind and their daughter Marianne is carrying a child no-one will account for. And, when a preacher selling bibles and a boxer looking for a comeback show up in the middle of the night, things start to spiral beyond the point of no return.

Brought to life by a 20-piece company of actors and musicians, award-winning playwright Conor McPherson beautifully weaves the iconic songbook of Bob Dylan into this new show full of hope, heartbreak and soul.

Conor McPherson said:

“I’m so delighted the brilliant talent of our cast will be captured at Abbey Road Studios. It’s been an honour working with them on Bob Dylan’s incredible songs. The reaction from audiences every night and the clamour for a recording has been overwhelming and is a true testament to their stunning voices.”

Girl from the North Country features songs from every period of Bob Dylan’s catalogue with new musical arrangements by Simon Hale.

Tracklisting

  1. Sign On The Window
  2. Went To See The Gypsy
  3. Tight Connection To My Heart
  4. Slow Train Coming/License To Kill
  5. Ballad Of A Thin Man (Instrumental)
  6. I Want You
  7. Blind Willie McTell (Instrumental)
  8. Like A Rolling Stone/To Make You Feel My Love
  9. Like A Rolling Stone (Reprise)/I Want You
  10. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere/Jokerman
  11. Sweetheart Like You/True Love Tends To Forget
  12. Girl From The North Country
  13. Hurricane/All Along The Watchtower/Idiot Wind
  14. Lay Down Your Weary Tune (Instrumental)
  15. Duquesne Whistle/Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)/Is Your Love In Vain?/License To Kill
  16. Tight Connection To My Heart (Underscore/Reprise)
  17. Lay Lady Lay (Instrumental)/Jokerman (Reprise)/Clair De Lune
  18. Forever Young
  19. My Back Pages