Unique Spencer: ‘The industry needs a shake-up – working-class actors are as capable as any from Eton’
Unique Spencer is making her theatre debut in The Night Before Christmas at Southwark Playhouse in London. She tells Giverny Masso why she is calling for more support for working-class performers at drama schools…
Tell me about your role in The Night Before Christmas…
I play a character called Cherry, who is a sex worker. The show tells the story of people who have no hope at Christmas, but it’s magical in the end. We’ve had two weeks for the rehearsal process, but I had the script before and I broke it down to find facts and the real meaning of my character. It is a comedy and she’s a sex worker, but everybody has layers and when I auditioned I said: “For me it’s important I don’t play stereotypes, as these are real people with real feelings.” She’s a woman who has put aside her ego because she has a son to look after, in a way none of us could dream of doing. She uses her sexuality as a weapon.
How did you get into acting?
I didn’t start acting until I was 21. It’s weird because I remember I first thought about it on the day of the London riots. I went to a friend’s house, and I met a guy who was wearing a top that said ‘actor’ on it, and it was from Identity School of Acting. I went home and googled it, and I thought: ‘I’m going to apply and see what happens.’ When I got a letter saying I had got in, I was over the moon. I then went to a company called Generation Arts and they gave me a year’s course for free, which gives you the skills to get into drama school. I got into Arts Ed and received a scholarship. I would never have been able to afford to go otherwise.
What was it like leaving drama school?
It was quite difficult. I’d booked my first job before I left, which was at Glyndebourne Opera. It was the first time I had ever heard or seen an opera. I just had an acting part. From that we went to do the BBC Proms, and performed in front of 5,000 people. It was one of the best experiences. After that it got a bit tricky, but that’s how an actor’s life can be. I have had 50 or 60 auditions since I left drama school, and I have done a few short films. This is my theatre debut. It’s the most incredible, mind-blowing experience – it’s everything I had dreamed.
What has been your biggest career challenge?
A lot of it comes down to class, even when you get opportunities to go to drama school. Those who come from working-class backgrounds are surrounded by people with a private school education and sometimes I would feel inadequate. I’m also dyslexic and I had many obstacles to overcome before I was on the same level. I’d like to see more support and more teachers from working-class backgrounds. The industry needs a shake-up, it feels as though if you are working-class you should be grateful for any work you get, but we’re as capable as the guys from Eton. When you come from a working-class background you have nothing but hope and passion, and you’re not going to let anything stop you.
CV: Unique Spencer
Training: Identity School of Acting (2011-13), Generation Arts (2013-14), BA acting at Arts Educational Schools London (2014-17)
First professional role: La Clemenza Di Tito with Glyndebourne Opera (2017)
Agent: Felix de Wolfe
The Night Before Christmas runs at Southwark Playhouse until December 29