In the RSC’s intimate theatre space The Other Place, for the next month it will be showing festival of four plays that explore language, race, gender and life in Britain today. I spoke to Donna Banya, a young actor who began rehearsals for the two plays she stars in whilst sitting her final a-level exams.
Donna fell in love with acting from a young age, after attending stagecoach as a child and then successfully auditioning for National Youth Theatre, Banya has plenty of experience in acting but working for the RSC has been an incredible experience.
“Every day I am here I am just so in love with my job and the fact I get to call it a job it just amazing, it really doesn’t feel like that at all,” Banya told me. Whilst sitting her final A-Level exams she was in the second week of intense rehearsals for the festival. “It was difficult, it was like obviously a lot of pressure but it was good pressure as I am the kind of person that works best under intense pressure. The fact I have exams forced me to work ten times harder which is good because I am not sure I would have had that motivation.”
Donna is performing in two plays, Always Orange by Fraser Grace and Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Foot Soldier by Somalia Seaton. Interestingly she plays a school girl in both plays, yet her characters are remarkably different, meaning her approach to both roles is distinctively innovative.
“They are from completely different worlds, it has been quite interesting trying to explore the similarities and differences between the two characters,” Banya said. Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Foot Soldier is about society and our attitude towards each other and to people that are different to us. Yet Always Orange is about the aftermath of terrorist attacks, society being on edge and how the characters adjust to their lives.
Banya particularly connects to her character Aisha in Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Foot Soldier, “It has been quite challenging noticing the similarities that I have with her, both the good things and bad things, but it has definitely helped, I am excited to be playing a character that I have quite a bit in common with,” she said. Upon asking her what her dream role is, she told me: “For the place I am in my life I think Aisha is the dream role because it is an amalgamation of everything that has happened in my life up to this point and the theories and beliefs that I have about everything that is going on in the world.”
After a tough audition process, the rehearsals have been equally as demanding. Banya explain: “We spent a lot of time in the first week of the rehearsal for Kingdom going over the script and trying to really understand the language before anything else. For myself, I did a blog as if I were the character and I wrote the feelings and thoughts about different things, particularly the things she is passionate about, and it was really helpful as it helped contextualise it”
“What I think is great is the emphasis on ensemble and not thinking of yourself, it has helped me massively in terms of the way that I impact the other actors and how to be really open and fearless and not afraid to fail.”
Banya emphasised her admiration for the RSC and their ability to create socially inclusive theatre. For the Making Mischief festival there are £5 tickets available for under 26 year-olds and 70p tickets which reflect the price of tickets when the The Other Place first opened in 1974. “It is great because it opens up the experience to a whole lot of people,” Banya said. “I loved what they were doing with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the company touring the UK and having amateur companies was great because so many people were able to get involved – I think that is really important.”
Donna’s animated character seeps through her voice as she talks dearly about working with the RSC as she is just starting out in her acting career. Her connection to the characters in both plays is notable and I sense the next month is going to be a sensational whirlwind.
Making Mischief opens today on the 27th of July and runs until the 27th of August, all information can be found here.