Over a decade on from its London Premiere, Dennis Kelly’s Debris makes a welcome return to the Southwark Playhouse. A play not shy on exploring the dark and sometimes unspoken aspects of life, Debris is a tale told through the eyes of two siblings as they attempt to make sense of the world. Ahead of the play’s opening night next week, I was able to speak to Leila Mimmack about preparing for her role, working in a small cast and why she was drawn to the play!
You’ll be starring in Dennis Kelly’s Debris at The Southwark Playhouse at the end of this month, could you describe what the play is about?
It’s about a brother and sister who are borderline abandoned. It’s them exploring what’s happened from when they were 9 until 16 in different climatic points through their lives. They take it in turns to tell each other’s stories; some of it is monologues, sometimes they tell a part of a story together in duologues. It’s fragmented but it’s all connected in the timeline of their life.
Could you describe your character?
She gets called tenacious twice in the play, but not in an aggressive way. I think she likes to stay out quite a lot. It depends on her older brother because that’s all she’s ever had. She loves imagining stuff; most of her stories are about creating a fantasy and a false reality. Her imagination is incredible, but it’s pretty wired because she’s been left alone quite a lot. She’s had to find an outlet, so she uses stories and different versions of stories as an outlet.
Do you identify with her in any way?
In parts, obviously it’s hard because it’s really sad circumstances; she’s motherless and she is very dependent on other people. I’ve got a little sister, so I can relate, and we’re really close together in age so I know what it feels like to have somebody there all the time, and your sibling knows you better than anybody else.
How did you prepare for the role?
Abi (Abigail Graham) is an amazing director; we did a week of looking at different places and times and people that are mentioned (in the play). She went through a lot of different exercises about looking at where they’re from, what happened at certain stages, different timelines and so for the first week, it was amazing. She just made us delve in and have to find the answers to the questions, and some of them are obviously unanswerable because it’s quite surreal in terms of it’s a bit of a bizarre reality.
The cast only consists of 2 actors, how was it working in a small cast? Do you find it easier?
I’ve never done this, so I was a little bit (like), you’re going to be surprised either way, but Harry (McEntire) is amazing, and thank god because if he wasn’t it would literally be hell! It’s literally just you two, and that’s quite a lot of pressure I think you put on the other person, and they probably put on you! Luckily, he’s really lovely so it’s been great.
Could you describe the rehearsal process? Is there a typical day?
It’s been a bit of a mix; the first and second week we did circuits and physical warm ups every day, so that was regular for a while. We normally do voice work, it depends, the routine changes, but each week we usually have a routine, and then that routine’s fixed for the next 5 days. We’ve got this really lovely lady (Jennifer Jackson) who is a movement director, and she’s making us fit!
Debris is quite dark in it’s themes, from death to loneliness. Do you find that you can switch off when you leave the rehearsal space?
Yes, I think Abigail is really good at doing that! We play lots of games before, and she makes it really chilled afterwards; so because she’s like that, then you just kind of go, ok, see you later! It makes it more relaxed, which is really nice.
What inspired you to become an actress?
My mum and dad run an outdoor theatre company, so I saw a lot of what they did, but they actually discouraged me from going to it because obviously poverty is rife in this profession! You know how people have that moment? I do not have that moment.
Your career has involved a lot of Television roles, from the BBCs Eastenders, to ITVs The Bill to Channel 5s The Bible Series. What drew you to the play Debris?
It’s really hard because it’s only two of you. It deals with stuff that I don’t really understand, it’s always nice finding out about something you don’t really know, it was basically a massive challenge!
What advice would you give aspiring performers out there?
My friend always says to me, he loves watching stuff, because then you work out what you like; like going to the theatre, going to the cinema, because without that, you don’t know, and then from that, it’s cool to form ideas about stuff. So I’d probably take Tom Kane’s advice and give you that!
Leila Mimmack will be starring in Abigail Graham’s production of Debris at The Southwark Playhouse from Wednesday 23rd April until Saturday 17th May, for more information on the production, visit here…