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‘Black Brits are crying out for a sitcom’

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Jocelyn Jee Esien and Roger Griffiths star in the play

THE LATEST production from leading black theatre company is the comedic play One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.

Starring much-loved British actress and comedian Jocelyn Jee Esien as matriarch Myra, the production tells the story of a respectable black family living in Philadelphia in the 1970’s.

Believing that black Britain has missed out on having a successful sitcom, Esien believes this play – which features a set that replicates the sights and sounds of a live television recording, will fill that void. For a while at least.

“We have never had our own Cosby Show,” says the actress best known for her role in Three Non Blondes and her own sketch show Little Miss Jocelyn. “This play is happening at a time when we are crying out for a black sitcom and it’s going to be like watching a sitcom. People won’t expect what they are going to see. We take certain stereotypes and completely flip them.

“Lots of things have been tried, but I think the audience will feel some kind of gap has been filled [with this play].”

Written by the late American playwright Don Evans, Esien believes the piece is too funny and thought provoking to not evoke a reaction from the audience.

“There are lots of things in the play the audience will not be able to keep quiet about. It’s one of those plays that will speak to a wide variety of people, not just black people, but to everyone.”

Playing the matriarch of the family has come naturally to the Three Non Blondes star. In fact, she feels the character was almost made for her.

“If I had gone to see this play, I would have watched it and been annoyed I wasn’t in it,” she laughs. “I had to say yes to this play. She (Myra) gets away with saying a lot of things I wouldn’t say, but I think we both have a touch of OCD.

“She’s the mother of a family that has climbed the class ladder and she is pretending to be something she is not.”

Starring alongside actor Roger Griffiths, who plays her husband in the production, Esien says the chemistry between them is like that of a couple of kids.

“He’s like an eight-year-old on stage and I’m like a five-year-old,” she laughs. “But we both just go for it. We don’t have to worry about touching; we feel like we know each other. We’ve been rehearsing for weeks and we really became a family quickly.”

Moving into theatre was a natural transition for Esien who is currently developing a new stand-up tour.

“I trained for three years in the theatre and I used to do a lot of plays before I got into comedy. I’m most comfy and happy when I’m on stage and live.

“I like touring. We are doing two nights here and there and it’s nice being away from home for a while to be able to concentrate on the play.”

The production is currently running at The Crucible Studio, Sheffield and finishes on September 24 – visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk Other venues include Tobacco Factory, Bristol on October 1 and 2 – visit www.tobaccofactorytheatre.com; and the Albany, London from October 4-8 – visit www.thealbany.org.uk For more information visit www.eclipsetheatre.org.uk

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