Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Interview: Vanessa Babirye, playing Leah in Beautiful Thing

Vanessa attends Beautiful Thing's launch
Vanessa Babirye is currently playing Leah in Nikolai Foster’s anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing.

Following a successful West End run and short tour in 2013, Foster’s production begins touring again next month before opening at the West End’s Arts Theatre on 3rd June. Beautiful Thing is a glorious urban love story between two young men set on an inner city housing estate.

Vanessa recently starred in Romeo and Juliet for the National Theatre. Her television credits include: Babylon (Channel 4) and Our Girl (BBC). 

I recently spoke to Vanessa about how she reacted when she found out she had been cast in Beautiful Thing, why she is so excited to be working with Nikolai Foster and what people can expect from the play…

How familiar were you already with Beautiful Thing?
I had seen the film, [laughs] it was hilarious obviously and I always thought Leah was a fantastic part. So when my agent called me and asked if I wanted to audition for Beautiful Thing I was like, “What?! Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing?! I’m there, get me that audition!” I read the script like three times and I was dying with laughter, I think it’s so beautiful and I’m so happy and ready to be doing it. 

How did you react when you found out you got the part?
It’s so embarrassing… so embarrassing! 

[laughs] What happened?
Oh gosh, ok… I went to meet my friend and we went to Pizza Hut to get a takeaway. We were sitting waiting when my agent phones me. She thought I sounded upset, I’d had a really miserable day and it was raining but my agent said, “I’ve got some good news that’s going to make you happy! You have been offered Beautiful Thing!” Literally I got up and ran around the entire restaurant… everyone was looking at me! It was so embarrassing and my friend looked at me like ‘Vanessa, what the hell are you doing?’ [laughs] I ran outside and a little tear shed… I couldn’t believe that I was going to get to work with Nikolai Foster and Jonathan Harvey! My friend didn’t get it! It was so embarrassing [laughs].

One minute Beautiful Thing is hysterically funny and then the next it is deeply moving. What do you think people who don’t know much about it can expect?
I think the beautiful thing about what Jonathan has done with the play…

That was smooth!
[laughs] Right?! The message is not in your face, a lot of the plays regarding homophobia were really negative but this actually isn’t. People can expect laughter, a lot of sorrow and the beautiful thing about it is that you are able to see both sides. Afterwards you can digest it, it’s like “oh wow”. 

Vanessa and the cast of Beautiful Thing

What has it been like to meet everyone? You’re working alongside an amazing cast!
Everyone is really nice! I was really nervous because I’ve never done anything this big before and when I saw the cast I was like, “Wow! Oh my god, really? Me with them… are you sure?” I feel really proud of myself and really proud of what everyone is putting into this show. I’m so excited!

You must be particularly excited about working with Nikolai? He’s incredibly passionate about this piece!
During the auditions we had this amazing conversation before my audition had even started; it was just about life, homophobia and the world… we just really get on. We were just chatting until he was like, “Vanessa, the audition!” I feel like he’s the type of director to really dig in there and get what he thinks the character needs. He is hands on which is good!

How are you feeling about touring and discovering what the different audiences are like?
I’m really looking forward to that. The majority of the plays that I have done have been in London which is so diverse. I toured a play called Neighbours and the reactions were so different. I’m looking forward to touring with Beautiful Thing because I think it will also educate people, it’s going to be a really interesting experience!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The 2015 UK Tour of Beautiful Thing begins on 23rd March at Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre, The production runs at the Arts Theatre in London between 3rd June and 11th July 2015. Please visit www.beautthing.com for further information, full tour dates and tickets.

Read our recent interviews with Charlie Brooks and Thomas Law & Sam Jackson
Read our previous interviews with Nikolai Foster and Jonathan Harvey

Photo Credit: Anton Belmonte 

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