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Superhoe’s Nicole Lecky and Jade Lewis: ‘There are really exciting changes going on. What’s next?’

Jade Lewis and Nicole Lecky in Superhoe rehearsals. Photo: Helen Murray Jade Lewis and Nicole Lecky in Superhoe rehearsals. Photo: Helen Murray

Co-produced by Talawa Theatre and the Royal Court, Superhoe is a one-woman play bringing east London to west London. Matt Trueman meets writer-actor Nicole Lecky and director Jade Lewis

Sometimes, you can see the East End from Sloane Square. The Royal Court sits smack in the centre of SW1, but it has a 60-year history of looking east, stretching back to Arnold Wesker’s classic Chicken Soup With Barley.

Follow the scripts and you see a city spreading out – from Wesker’s Whitechapel to Simon Stephens’ Bow and on to David Eldridge’s Leyton and Basildon. Right now, though, Stratford’s stealing the scene and, just months after Debris Stevenson raced through its grime scene in Poet in Da Corner, the Royal Court is revisiting E15 in Nicole Lecky’s Superhoe. “It’s not for my town”, the 28 year old actor-writer insists, “but I feel proud of the place. I want to do it justice.”

Seen from Kensington and Chelsea, Stratford can look a world away. Lecky knows as much. Having grown up “in a really diverse part of town”, she found the theatre world came as a culture shock. “Drama school was a really big change for me,” Lecky says. Mountview is only a short train ride from Stratford, but for this English-Jamaican east Londoner, it felt far removed.

Q&A: Nicole Lecky

What was your first non-theatre job?
I worked in an estate agents. I was there for two weeks’ work experience, but they kept me on because I was good at covering for my manager, who used to hide from angry tenants.

What was your first theatre job?
I did a play at Theatre Royal Stratford East called Then Like My Dreams. It was directed by Michael Buffong, who is the artistic director of Talawa and is now co-producing my play. I reminded him of the play ages ago and he really laughed.

What do you wish you had known when starting out?
I’m not sure. Everything’s kind of led to this point.

Who or what is your biggest influence?
My mum. She passed away when I was 19, but she really encouraged me to go for my dreams. Her expectations of me were never limited.

If you hadn’t been a writer/actor what would you have done?
I read War Studies at King’s College London, before dropping out for drama school, so something in politics or law.

Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals?
Can’t go far wrong with a prayer and some deep breathing.

One of “only a handful of mixed-race or black” students at the school, Lecky took time to adjust. “I always thought I was really middle-class – we weren’t on the breadline, you know – but people there were from a different socio-economic background altogether. They called me a ‘rude girl’. I was like: ‘What?’ Looking back, that did unsettle me.”

It’s what makes theatre’s diversity drive so important. Stories such as Superhoe, which is co-produced by Talawa Theatre, push against theatre’s blinkered homogeneity, especially as part of programmes as diverse as the latest at the Royal Court. “Seasons such as this are brilliant,” Lecky says. “They challenge what theatre can be and who it’s for, but it still feels special and it shouldn’t. It should just exist.”

Nicole Lecky in Superhoe rehearsals. Photo: Helen Murray
Nicole Lecky in Superhoe rehearsals. Photo: Helen Murray

In Superhoe, Lecky plays Sasha, a troubled teenager turfed out by her mum and forced to make ends meet by any means. Sofa surfing, she picks up work as a ‘camgirl’, stripping for strangers online, but it’s a slippery slope – one where the line between social media and soliciting begins to blur.

Lecky was always aware of “this Instagram culture of girls secretly escorting” – rumours flew round at her school – but she says it “was always something you didn’t take too seriously”. Her focus sharpened on seeing a website outing social media sex workers. “I wanted to know who the girls doing this were, and why? The more you search, the deeper you go. It’s such a rabbit hole.”

Jade Lewis in Superhoe rehearsals. Photo: Helen Murray
Jade Lewis in Superhoe rehearsals. Photo: Helen Murray

One can tumble into it quite easily, she says. “I’ve gone on to apps where I could become an escort in five minutes. That’s fine if you’ve got a choice and you’re in control, but it’s really important to highlight the potential dangers involved.” As Sacha gets sucked in, Superhoe scrutinises the online economy – the seduction of easy cash and virtual work, the primacy of image over identity, the smudge of personal and professional lives, of self and avatar. It’s a smart, snappy solo.

Superhoe is Lecky’s first full-length script, after years in television writers’ rooms. It’s also the first to merge her twin artistic identities – actor and writer – something that can work wonders for an actor’s career.

Like Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum Dreams, Superhoe started out as a scratch at London’s Yard theatre. Lecky hadn’t expected to play Sacha herself, but performing her own work has made her “feel more empowered” as an actor and a writer. “It’s the kind of role I’d kill for. Get me in that audition room,” she says. “I feel as though I have more power to really choose the stories I want to tell.”

Q&A: Jade Lewis

What was your first non-theatre job?
Three months at Sports Direct.

What was your first theatre job?
Parallel production of The Suit at Young Vic, directed by Suba Das.

What do you wish you had known when starting out?
There’s no single formula or route to success.

Who or what is your biggest influence?
My peers and those who came before.

If you hadn’t been a director, what would you have done?
Radio presenter and DJ – I dabble.

Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals?

Her director Jade Lewis wants to do the same. At 29, she’s become something of a solo specialist, having previously worked with playwright-performers Molly Taylor and Yolanda Mercy. The skill, she says, lies in helping artists to give the best of themselves. “Each is completely different – different writers, different performers, different energies. You have to adapt to that.” Her job is to help each meet their audience. “You’re often dealing with direct address, so how do we keep it alive? How does it move, how does it sound, how do we shift focus and rhythm?”

Superhoe is, partly, a product of theatre. Both women came up through their local theatres. As part of Stratford East’s young company, Lecky was invited to write for E20, while Lewis – a Southwark resident – began directing via the Young Vic’s Introduction to Directing course, led by Lyndsey Turner. As Lecky puts it: “Without those institutions, it would have been difficult to find a route into theatre.”

Both believe that’s shifting. Indeed, as artists of colour, both have felt the ground move as closed doors open up. “There are really exciting changes going on,” Lecky says. “Let’s push on. Let’s keep our foot on the gas. What next?”

CV: Nicole Lecky

Born: Newham, London, 1990
Agent: Casarotto (writing), Identity Agency Group (acting)
Landmark productions: Superhoe, Royal Court, 2019; The Moor, short film, 2018

CV: Jade Lewis

Born: 1989, south London
Landmark productions: Extinguished Things by Molly Taylor, 2018 (director); Quarter Life Crisis by Yolanda Mercy, 2017 (director); Nine Night, National Theatre (resident director); The Convert, Gate Theatre (resident director)

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