“We must remember that how we vote is shaped by our own life experiences” – Seema Bowri is an ensemble member of the new National Theatre’s touring production, My Country; a work in progress. We had the chance to talk to her about the show, the rehearsal process and what she hopes audience will love about it.
What made you want to be part of this project?
What drew me to this project was the ‘current’ nature of the show. It’s about the here and now and also, it’s been devised by ourselves with Rufus Norris and Carol Anne Duffy shaping it. I also loved the fact that we (the actors) would be responsible for delivering the voices of real people.
How does the rehearsal process differ with a verbatim show?
When delivering verbatim, the actor has no room to put their own interpretation on it. The script only told us which parts of the verbatim (or interviews) were going to be used. It was up to us to put the hours of work into listening to the whole interviews (to understand their view in context) and then mimic their voice and speech patterns to deliver their piece of view.
Your set of interviews represents a very diverse part of the population. How did you manage to differentiate each voice and make it different from the others?
Firstly, all the actors are from their regions (I’m from Nottingham) so I’m not putting any extra work into my East Midlands accent. The challenge was to find the right part of your vocal range to best fit the people you are representing. In order to differentiate, we have to be quite specific. (We’ve also punctuated each person with some kind of a physical feature).
We worked through these challenges with the voice coaches (Jeanette Nelson and Charmian Hoare) at the National Theatre who also encouraged us to adapt our voices in a way that were also sustainable to tour the show.
Considering the topic, it was surprising and refreshing to see that the play has a lot of light and funny moments. Is there a line or a moment that you enjoy particularly, yours or by someone else?
There are so many funny and light bits to this show that I enjoy, from the 13 year boy from Merthyr Tydfil to some of the bonkers verbatim from the SW of England… we are at that stage now where we all try and mimic our favourite bits in the show – during company warm-ups!
One of my people talks very frankly about her views on immigration, which I respect and enjoy putting across, purely because ordinarily, no one would dare say these things in ordinary conversation (for fear of being branded a racist). I also enjoy voicing my elderly Asian gentleman who shares his views about Muslims and refugees again, because they are very honest.
I met both people whilst we were performing in Leicester, which was very emotional as an experience.
What would you hope people take from this show?
From all our Q&A’s or aftershow discussions with the audiences (which have mostly been very well attended and passionately discussed) I know that audiences see the humanity in this show. Hopefully, they can appreciate that whilst they may not agree with certain views, they can still respect the decisions of others. We must listen to each other and remember that how we vote is shaped by our own life experiences.
Are you excited to be on tour? Do you expect audiences to react differently in different parts of the country?
It has been very exciting to be on tour. Going to our own region in particular – i.e. Leicester last week – for me felt like a privilege. I say to the audience “ I speak today for Leicester – the centre of England” and that gave me much pride and they too cheered to be represented.
I’m really looking forward to coming to Warwick Arts Centre.