Actor Marieme Diouf on playing the first black female footballer: ‘She’d play in a corset then go home and cook the family dinner’
Now playing Emma Clarke, the first black professional female footballer, in Offside, a play by poets Hollie McNish and Sabrina Mahfouz, Diouf tells Simon Fearn about football, sexism and representation…
When did you realise you wanted to be an actor?
I always had the urge to do something with performance growing up in Senegal. When I moved to England aged 11, I didn’t speak English and watched a lot of kids’ TV. I thought maybe I could do something like that.
Tell me about your role in Offside.
I play Emma Clarke and a fictional young girl called Mickey. Mickey is from Peckham and she is on the brink of qualifying to become a permanent member of the England football team. She uses Clarke as her driving force. Clarke made it back in 1892, and she was able to do what she wanted to do at a time when there was a lot of oppression. Fizz Waller plays [professional football player] Lily Parr in 1921 and a young girl called Keeley in 2018. Both of us relate to these historical characters as inspiration.
Are you a football fan?
I am. At home in Senegal, football is one of those things that we always watch as a family. I did a lot of sport growing up and football has always been in my life.
Were you aware of Emma Clarke?
I wasn’t. When the script came through and I read it, I thought: ‘Is this a fictional character? Surely this is not something that I’m learning about now?’ The fact that she’s been lost in history is mainly because she’s a woman, and doubly because she’s a black woman. I can give you loads of male footballers that I think are amazing, but I can’t do the same for women.
How does the play use football to talk about sexism?
Football is a springboard the play uses to show how far we as women have come. Emma Clarke was playing in a corset and still had to go home, do the dinner and look after the family. Lily Parr was fighting the FA ban [on women playing football on FA pitches]. These themes make the play relatable both to people who like football and people who love theatre.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
Before this I did Cuttin’ It for the London Royal Court’s school tour. We took it to a school that had a very Somali-heavy student body. The play is set in Somalia and is about female genital mutilation, so it was very challenging because it’s these people’s world. But it was also such a reward because they came and told us afterwards that they felt completely and utterly represented.
CV: Marieme Diouf
Training: Arts Educational Schools, London (2012-2015)
First professional role: Anette in Liberian Girl at the Royal Court, London (2015)
Agent: Beresford Management