On Stage: AVA – The Secret Conversations


Ayesha Darkher: ‘Watching this play from the wings is a total joy’

We talk to actress Ayesha Darkher about her new role in the stage adaptation of Zadie Smith's White Teeth

Ayesha Darkher been a part of a huge number of essential British cultural moments, from Coronation Street and Doctor Who to the RSC's Othello and A Midsummer Night Dream. Now, she's tackling the quintessential London story, taking on the fiery character of Alsana Iqbal of Zadie Smith's novel White Teeth as it comes to the stage in Kilburn, on the streets where the book is set.

Ayesha DarkherLondon Calling: Is there a favourite role you’ve had over the years out of your many?

Ayesha Darkher: I have grown up in this job and have enjoyed every single film or play or TV show because I feel extremely lucky to be doing something I love. For me, it has always been less about the role I play and more about the project as a whole. I grew up doing mainly film work and adored everything about the cinema but especially independent films. Acting was the only way I could be a part of it all but I was interested in the whole process. More recently I've been doing a lot of theatre and am drawn to projects to do with community. Midsummer Night’s dream included actors from all over the country, Pericles involved about two hundred people from different parts of London and White Teeth is placed very firmly in the heart of Kilburn.

LC: What attracted you to working on White Teeth? Were you a fan of Zadie Smith previously?

AD: I have been a fan of hers ever since I read White Teeth when it came out, and have read most of her other books. What made me get involved with this project was the opportunity to work with the Indhu Rubasingham again and to work on an adaptation by Stephen Sharkey. A huge, episodic, multi-generational book like White Teeth is very hard to adapt well but his adaptation is bold and yet retains the soul of the book.

Image: Mark Douet

LC: Why do you think White Teeth is being turned into a play now, almost 20 years after its publication?

AD: That is a question for Indhu but there is something beautiful about doing a production of this play on the streets where it is set. I meet people every day who tell me stories about this neighbourhood and the people they remember and it is important to me and to all of us that they enjoy the play. I think there will be many versions of this story because it will age well. Zadie Smith was writing about themes that are contentious and current today in a way that is still fresh. Watching this play from the wings is a total joy. I adore Michele Austin as Mad Mary. It's a delight for me to watch our magnificent cast, so I am glad they did this version and very glad to be able to see it from the inside out.

LC: The last musical you were in was Bombay Dreams. Are you having fun dancing and singing in White Teeth?

AD: I really do. I am a bit scared of singing and dancing on a stage in front of people because apart from a few special projects I only ever do that in my bathroom. I love singing a happy song and I like the one I sing in the show.

Image: Mark Douet

LC: Can you tell us a bit more about your character, Alsana Iqbal?

AD: Alsana is really fun to play. There are things from the book that I was tempted to hold on to and it was enormously useful to have far more information than I would ever use in the play, but in our version, she is a violent, loving tyrant who does not get her own way despite her best efforts. She is embittered and angry as she gets older but has a huge energy for life, which makes me like her in spite of all the awful things she does. There are times she says things with authority that are completely wrong and it tickles me to play that.

LC: Do you have a favourite theatre in London, or other favourite places to go?

AD: I have many favourite theatres in London. It is the city I fell in love with and left home for. I love the little alleyway that leads to the stage door at the Royal Court. I love the backstage area of almost every theatre I have worked in because of the small bits of junk that are left around. I love that there is always a piano and someone who knows how to play it (not me!). One of my favourite places to go is Paul Rothe and Son in Marylebone Lane. The people are kind and the food is good and I love that nearby is the ‘Button Queen’ that sells almost exclusively - you guessed it - buttons.

White Teeth, 9 November - 22 December, Kiln Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, NW6 7JR