At 14, I was Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House, at 15 the impish Cleopatra in Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra and a manic Abigail in The Crucible. I was pitiless to Shylock as Portia, and a not very convincing Viola in Twelfth Night There was an empty room beneath our flat, full of beasties. There, I tied ribbons under the bust and round my head and acted parts - Miranda, Desdemona, Cleopatra - alone, a melodrama-fest sometimes producing real tears, the nascent actress with her extravagant, profligate yearnings.I have photographs of a superb production of A Midsummer Night's Dream by semi-professional players at Kampala's National Theatre, the hub of cultural life in the capital. With friends (two Muslims, one Parsee, one Hindu), I was a fairy in a cropped top and skirt made of green chiffon petals. Even now, when we meet, someone turns into a babbling Bottom or reproduces Puck's mischievous rhymes - old thespians in a kebab house.
Shakespeare remains for us the greatest inspiration, a lover whose voice never ages.It was this engrossing relationship with Shakespeare, I told the Royal Court writers, which caused a lethal explosion, leaving scars that will never heal I was young, fiery and innocent. How was I to know that a school play (Romeo and Juliet), would end in an almighty scandal that would take me off the boards for ever? Until now.The stage was where I felt released from a crushingly painful home life and intolerable conventions I had real talent, they said. One night 37 years ago, I rushed home, an elated Juliet, carrying a precious acting award that would have led to acting school in London. But these possibilities were callously snuffed out by my family, my father most of all, who punished me with a deadly silence He, who loved Lear, never spoke to me again He died four years later. Fathers and daughters: a running theme in Shakespeare.Dominic Cooke moved to the RSC and offered me a one-woman show based on this tragedy within the tragedy. For 10 months, I have been transported back to that hellish moment. My director Gavin Marshall, sharp, perceptive, has forced me back into the cell of buried emotions and grief It has been shattering.
Demons lurk and cause havoc in places you have not attended to in order to go on with life I am back with Shakespeare on my tongue Imagine that. After so many years and all that unfinished business.This is a story about race, sex and class in that paradise that was Uganda from where we were ignominiously chucked out by Idi Amin. He was a monstrous man - cannibalistic, brutish, unpredictable, part child and part savage, Caliban. We were the self-controlled, cautious, nifty merchants, decorous fiddlers of accounts, hoarders of wealth, excellent bribers, family and community creatures governed by manners We thought of ourselves as pearls before swine. And they called us the Shylocks of East Africa.Asians wanted stakes in that gorgeous land, but many could only deal with black Africans as inferiors Black Ugandans grew, unjustly, to despise our entire race. We had been part of a system of unspoken apartheid set up by the British. Whites on top of the high hills, blacks in the sunless pits, Asians in the middle.For Asians, the wheels of life rolled predictably: birth, school, business, marriage, children, school, business.. and into this existence came subversive forces.