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Akiya Henry

7th July 2022

Interview: Amy Bell

Performing in the new play Madhouse alongside David Harbour, Bill Pullman and Sinead Matthews; we get to chat to the lovely Akiya Henry who plays Lillian in the 5 star show, Mad House!

We chat with Akiya about auditioning, winning awards and being on stage with her cast members.

Congrats on getting the role of ‘Lillian’ in Mad House, what made you want to audition for this role?

Thank you so much! 

I’m a huge fan of our playwright Theresa Rebeck. Once I began to read the play, I couldn’t put it down. It took me on a journey and that is what great plays are supposed to do. Lillian is such a quietly powerful character in the play – I knew that this was a role I wanted to get my teeth into.

How did you get into the acting world and do you remember your first ever role?

I think I came out of the womb singing and dancing! I knew from a very young age that it was something I wanted to do. I spent five years with the National Youth Music Theatre and then was approached by agents after seeing me in NYMT productions. I signed up with an agent and touch wood, I haven’t looked back since.

I think my first ever role was playing a little babe in a panto, as a child. That was pretty good fun!

Can you tell us more about the role of ‘Lillian’ and the story behind Mad House? 

She’s a hospice worker who is very good at what she does. She cares and invests a lot for the patient’s and families she supports, whilst navigating secrets of her own.

Without giving to much away, this is a story about man who has returned to his childhood home to look after his dying father, whose siblings arrive to get their hands on their inheritance. It’s a story about the very things we fear as human beings and what that produces in us as we are forced to confront it. It’s incredibly funny and touching.

Stills from Mad House. Photography by Marc Brenner

What is it like working alongside David Harbour, Bill Pullman, and Sinead Matthews?

It’s incredible and so much fun!  They are all such beautiful actors! 

My job is that I get to work, watch and play with some of the most talented actors at the top of their field. Every job I do I am always learning from actors. To share a room with such generous, wonderfully gifted people always feels like such a blessing. There is a trust that needs to be built so quickly in rehearsals and I always know I’m in safe hands when there’s an ease to it – this is one of those rooms. 

Bill always gives the best hugs every morning, Sinead never stops making me smile and feel at ease and David is always keeping you on your toes.

How do you prepare for an audition and rehearsals? 

First and foremost a script must speak to me. I need to feel connected to it. 

Preparing for rehearsals is always dependent on the director you’re working with. I’ve worked with some directors who don’t like you to prepare before rehearsals – they like everything to come to life as an ensemble in the room. Then there are directors who like to have a conversation with you beforehand to discuss the content and information they’d like you to research or think about. Then there are directors that leave you to your own devices, to explore the world and the characters in your own way. 

I like to read the script or scene a few times, to get a sense of the rhythm of it. Great writing and characters come to life for me if I can really hear the musicality of the piece. 

I love detail and the minutiae of a script – I can spend hours delving into the world of a play and character. I love exploring where characters are from, the world they find themselves in at the beginning of a play, researching the themes that are being explored in the play and making choices according to what I have discovered. I like to hold back a little bit, because you never know what choices and decisions the actors will be making when you first meet – a choice that I make may change because another incredible actor has opened my eyes to something that I didn’t see/hear. That’s why I love rehearsals – new discoveries being made daily and being open to that.

Auditions are slightly different, as it’s just you. Sometimes time constraints mean that you may only have 24hrs to bring a character to life. So, I tend to do much of the same as above, but in a shorter period. Mainly for me it’s making a bold choice about who I think this character is and breaking that down until I feel extremely comfortable and trusting the text and the language to steer me in the right direction. 

You also have recently won WhatsOnStage award, how does it feel knowing your hard work is being recognized?

It feels like such an honour to be acknowledged by our wonderful audiences that have supported me and many more of us in our industry. 

The award, for me, is a daily reminder of all the brilliant people in our industry who remain committed daily to make theatre happen and bring incredible stories to life. Without all those incredible people, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. 

What is next for you?

You will have to wait and see…

Grab your tickets to see Akiya in the show Mad House here.

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