We talked to writer and performer Phobe McIntosh about the story behind her solo show Dominoes, acting vs writing, and her artistic inspirations.
Hi Phoebe, can you tell us how you came to write about Dominoes and what story you wanted to tell with it?
I’d always known I wanted to write a solo show, and after I finished my first play (A two-hander called The Tea Diaries, which I took to Edinburgh) I began writing short monologues and bits and pieces here and there about a few personal experiences – growing up, family, getting married – but they were all quite disparate and didn’t have a through line.
But when I turned up the gas on getting something written, a couple of different things sparked the narrative of the play as it is now. One was the fact that my in-laws already had the same surname before they got married! I always thought there was something curious about that and how small the chances of two unrelated people with the same name meeting and falling for each other were. So that thought was percolating in the background when I watched a BBC documentary presented by David Olusoga called Britain’s Forgotten Slave-Owners, which is about the compensation slave owners (the owners!) received after slavery was abolished. There’s a database associated with the programme which lists all the people who’d received a pay-out – all you have to do is type in a name. That was the moment I really started to think “ what if….” and Layla’s story in Dominoes became the thread I wanted to use to sew it all together.
That sounds like a really interesting story, how did you first find out about it?
The documentary screened in 2015. It really was just chance that I decided to sit down and watch it. I’m so glad I did because it really got my juices flowing and turned into something I had to write about.
What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
I hope it will give audiences lots of food for thought about the issues of identity, how people define themselves and what that actually means (if anything). The other themes of race, friendship, family, loyalty, will hopefully have them thinking “What would I do in this situation?” and should our lives today be informed so heavily by the past? Is that the only way to live?
There’s a coming-of-age feeling to the play too so I’m hoping that, even if people can’t relate to Layla’s experiences directly, the sense of reaching a milestone in your life, like a wedding, might be something people can appreciate and empathise with. I also hope it’ll encourage them to find out who they are, perhaps look into their own family trees and get bitten by then genealogy bug like I have!
You began your career as a performer and you're in this piece – does writing your own material make it easier or harder to perform?
Yes, acting found me first! Well, professionally it did. I’ve always enjoyed writing stories… That’s a good question! I’ve found that being the writer makes the mechanics of learning my lines a bit easier. All the redrafting and proof reading before it goes anywhere near the stage helps to drill things about the play into my memory. But to perform work you’ve also written means that you’re in every part of the play and process. You’re very invested in it and there’s no one else to hide behind. It’s easy to think, ‘”If people don’t like this, uh oh, it’s all me here!” But, I always thought, if I’m ever going to do a solo show, it has to come from me and it’s a story I really want to tell. So I’m proud to say I’m both the writer and performer.
Is this your first solo show?
Yes! I’ve never done one before, but I’ve heard they can be quite addictive!
Where do you find your artistic inspiration?
Lots of places, really. I’m constantly watching films and seeing plays. I love walking, sometimes quite long distances around London and just letting my ideas run wild, then noting down the best ones when I get struck by something interesting. I get ideas from the lives of my friends and family and what they’re experiencing. I’m also a real people watcher (and listener). I’ve had lots of different day jobs in the past (and still do). Everything from teaching English in Romania to pizza making and office admin and, lately, teaching yoga. I remember one of the most important pieces of advice at drama school was to get a steady job while you’re in between acting gigs and auditions and to live a full life, not put things on hold while you’re waiting for the next part. And they were right, the by product is feeding your inspiration and getting ideas for the next story.
You’ve had a really exciting and diverse career up to this point – is there a highlight in your career you would like to share with us?
I really want to say “performing Dominoes for the first time at Tara Theatre” earlier this year, but that probably sounds cheesy and like a cunning ploy to get people to come to its next run! But it really was a proud moment for me. I’d say it’s been the most challenging thing I’ve done in my career and I was so pleased with how it was received and I’m excited about developing it some more and performing it again.
But a couple of other moments that stand out for me are my first short film out of drama school. It was called Sill Born and also starred Adelayo Adedayo, who has been involved in so many exciting and interesting things. It dealt with some pretty heavy themes and I really loved the challenge of working on it. Also, dancing in the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony was pretty special. Danny Boyle would come to the rehearsals and the audience in the stadium on the night numbered 80,000. I don’t think I’ll get to perform on a bigger stage than that… but you never know where this crazy thing they call acting will take you!
Mixed race history teacher Layla McKinnon is days away from saying ‘I do’. Already having the same surname as her fiancé used to be just a funny coincidence, but now it threatens to drive them apart. Piecing together her family tree, she tries to hold onto her best friend and her husband-to-be and find out who she is and where she fits in.
Wed 28 - Thu 29 Mar
Book now >>
Wed 28 - Thu 29 Mar
Book now >>