In the latest look at a show that should have opened this week but couldn’t because of the coronavirus lockdown, Fergus Morgan talks to Jade Anouka, writer and performer behind Heart, which was due to open at London’s Kiln Theatre. He also looks at a significant show that opened this week in a previous year
Heart, the one-woman debut play from actor and poet Jade Anouka, was scheduled to open at London’s Kiln Theatre on July 20. In mid-March, when the coronavirus lockdown started and theatres across the country closed their doors, Anouka was still confident it would go ahead. But as the weeks went by, she says, “it became more evident it wasn’t going to happen”.
“When I realised that, I was quite sad. I was devastated, actually. I’d been building up to it for so long, and with it being my first play, there was a lot of emotion attached to it. I was so excited about performing in a piece I had written and to be doing it at Kiln,” says Anouka.
In a stark trailer on Kiln’s website, Anouka describes the play as “not a black story or a woman story” but “a story for all the misfits, all those who have ever felt other”. It is, she says, semi-autobiographical, kind-of, following her own life from her marriage to the present day.
“I really wanted to connect with the audience,” she adds. “I wanted people to open up their hearts to the story and to each other. I wanted to get up in the audience’s faces too, but that’s not going to happen with social distancing. I’d have to perform behind a screen. Actually, that could be quite cool.”
Who was involved?
“Kate Pakenham saw it at Vault Festival last year, when I did a rehearsed reading of it, and liked it. She was producing. Nancy Medina was directing. Shelley Maxwell was doing movement. We had been in talks with a set designer, as well.”
How far did you get?
“We had just finished two weeks of research and development when the lockdown started. I was rewriting and developing the script. I kept working on it loads at first, thinking it was still going to happen in July. When I realised it wasn’t, I had to stop and work on other things, otherwise it would’ve driven me mad”
Will the show be rescheduled?
“Kiln has been amazing. The management team has always said we are still going to do it. We just need to work out when.”
What are you up to during lockdown?
“I spent lockdown in my flat in London with my partner and my dog. I’ve been writing a lot. I got a commission from Paines Plough at the end of last year, and I’m part of the Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab. After writing Heart I got a real bug for it, so I started seeking out more writing opportunities.
“I’m so grateful for the work that has come my way during lockdown. I filmed a short monologue for HighTide – Bedlam Before the Burnout by Aisha Zia – that I had to film myself at home, which was cool. I’ve also been doing a lot of poetry performances over Zoom.
“I just received a commission from the BBC to make a film as part of its Culture in Quarantine programme. It’s called Her and Her and it had to be made under lockdown conditions. I’ve written it, directed it, done the set design and everything else, and now it is in the edit.
“I’ve actually been busier than normal during lockdown. It’s all been quite manic.”
On December 2, 2001, US energy giant Enron filed for bankruptcy, after one of the biggest corporate scandals in history. On July 22, 2009 – this week, 11 years ago – Lucy Prebble’s play about the incident premiered at Chichester Festival Theatre, the first outing of a production that would go on to London’s Royal Court, the West End and Broadway within a year.
The New York run did not go as hoped, but Prebble’s play was heaped with superlatives this side of the Atlantic. Five stars from the Telegraph, five stars from the Times, five stars from the Guardian – stars that helped propel Prebble into the premier league of British dramatists – see 2012’s The Effect, 2019’s A Very Expensive Poison, and the hit HBO television series Succession, on which she is a writer.
Director Rupert Goold is now the Almeida’s artistic director, Ben Power is associate director at the National Theatre and producer Henny Finch is executive producer of London’s Donmar Warehouse: a decade on, and the team behind Enron are now some of the biggest beasts of UK theatre.
The play wasn’t just one hell of a calling card for the individuals that made it, though. It was also a significant moment in the history of the company they were part of at the time – Headlong, then recently rebranded from the Oxford Stage Company.
It heralded the organisation’s shift from an august old company into a vibrant and driving force, with new writing at its heart. More powerhouse productions, first under Goold, latterly under Jeremy Herrin, would follow, including Earthquakes in London, Chimerica, 1984 and American Psycho – but Enron was the spark that set them off.