Before the announcement of theatres closing around the world due to Covid-19, Nenda Neurer was due to start a run in the all-female production of Hamlet at the Watermill Theatre in April as Laertes, and had previously performed at the theatre in The Borrowers and Jerusalem. Last year, Nenda played the role of Letta in Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic and in the West End transfer at the Piccadilly Theatre, which also saw her make her West End debut. Recently, Nenda has been cast in an upcoming short film, Rivets, written by Anna Fordham, where she will be playing the role of Lena. Chatting with us, we found out from Nenda about playing Letta in Death of a Salesman, performing at the Watermill Theatre and her upcoming short film, Rivets.
Can you say about playing Letta in Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic, and how was it transferring to the West End?
Working with Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell was such an amazing experience, they’re both absolute power women. The whole company was brilliant, and I learnt a huge amount from watching them all every single day.
Going to the West End was a dream come true, as it was my first time, and what a joy to share a stage with forces like Sharon D. Clarke and Wendell Pierce every day. I also loved working with Femi Temowo twice, he is the most brilliant musician and singing with him every day has taught me so much.
When I first saw the auditorium, I couldn’t believe how big it was. I’m from a tiny village in Austria, there are no theatres anywhere near that size, and when I told my grandad on the phone, he kept saying, ‘but are there going to be enough people that want to go to the theatre every day?’, I had to reassure him that there were enough theatregoers in London.
Was there anything that drew you to the script and how were the auditions?
I didn’t know the script before I auditioned but I was excited to be seen for an Arthur Miller play. I knew All My Sons from drama school and I had really enjoyed working on that.
The audition was simple and quick, they made me feel very welcome in the room. We did a scene and then I played guitar and sang for them and they liked it. I didn’t think I got it though because I often think I did worse than I actually did, as many actors do I’m sure. So, it was a lovely surprise.
How were the press nights for both runs?
Press night at both the Young Vic and the Piccadilly were so much fun. I always find press nights very special, because you’ve worked so hard in the weeks leading up to it and then you open the show and you’re like, ‘this is it, world, this is what we’ve made’, and you go and celebrate that afterwards. Obviously, the work continues until the end of the run, but it’s nice seeing everyone relax a bit more. And I especially loved dancing with everyone in our company, we had a great energy.
What was it like returning to the Young Vic for the special scratch performances during the run at Piccadilly after the ceiling collapse?
The ceiling collapse was a huge shock to us all and I’m so grateful that nobody was seriously injured. Our audiences were amazingly supportive and everyone seemed to enjoy the scratch performances back at the Young Vic. I’m glad we could offer them something so special and intimate.
The Young Vic were very welcoming and built us a stage in under a day. Because it was all open, the actors were just sat at the side of the auditorium, which meant watching the show for the first time in a while. I really enjoyed that because everyone’s performances kept getting more detailed and nuanced. It was wonderful to watch, even without props and costumes.
You were part of the cast of White Teeth at Kiln Theatre, how was this?
Working at the Kiln was an absolute dream. The whole building is so welcoming, and as soon as you work there once, you’re just part of the family. And now every time I go back there, it feels like home, I love that theatre and the people who run it.
The White Teeth company was my favourite bunch of people to date, we had a beautiful time together. We all still chat and meet up regularly and I made some friends for life there.
It was also my first time being in a show with other women of colour, which was a very special moment for me. Growing up, I was never surrounded by many people who look like me, so it was beautiful to share a dressing room with these amazing women, who taught me a lot in the short period of time we had together. It sadly doesn’t happen often enough (yet) that a lot of women of colour work on the same job. We usually meet in the audition room, all going up for the same part.
Can you say about playing Clara in the show?
Zadie Smith’s characters are very detailed and thought through, it was an honour to play that part. It was also my first time playing a character from a novel. You’ve got all that backstory written for you, which I usually make up myself, and I really wanted to do it justice.
The biggest challenge for me was the accent, I have no Jamaican roots whatsoever and with English being my second language, I didn’t have many references to draw from. I was terrified at first, but we had a brilliant accent coach and I managed to find the self-belief to pull it off. I was very proud of that.
Having been in both The Borrowers and Jerusalem at the Watermill Theatre, what do you enjoy most about performing at this theatre, and can you tell us more about being in each show?
The Watermill will always have a special place in my heart. It’s such a peaceful place to spend two months of your life. Because they gave me my first ever job, it feels like home and I will always look forward to going back there.
Jerusalem was a great experience, such a beautiful play. It moved me to tears when I first read it, so I felt very grateful to be able to speak and listen to those words every day. I remember lying on the floor behind the set, when I wasn’t on stage, just listening to it, I found it so magical. It was my first time completely selling out a show and having people ring me to ask if I could get tickets for them. I was very grateful that people liked it so much. Loads of people travelled across the country to see it, which is a humbling experience.
The Borrowers was a dream come true because it was my first ever job. I’m so grateful that Paul Hart had faith in me. My favourite thing about it was seeing little girls who look like me, watch me with big eyes. They might not have ever seen themselves represented anywhere before that, and it is so important that they do. When I was growing up, there was nobody on any stages or screens that looked like me, especially not playing the lead, so this is something I feel very passionate about. When you have someone to look up to, who looks like you and has the same hair as you, you begin to believe in your own self-worth. I think that when kids see themselves represented as the lead on a stage or film, it can shift their perspective and widen the boundaries of what they believe is possible for them. Inspiring young people is the very top of my list of things I want to achieve in this life.
You played Juliet/Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet at Orange Tree Theatre, what was it like multi-roling in this production?
Playing both Juliet and Tybalt was fun because they’re such opposing characters. Tybalt is a troublemaker who wants to fight and Juliet just wants to be with her love. My favourite thing was the big fight with Mercutio and Romeo, whilst dipping in and out of the ‘Gallop Apace’ speech. It gave me such an interesting perspective for both characters. What started out as a challenge actually gave me more depth to play with in the end, which I enjoyed.
You were due to start a run at the Watermill Theatre in an all-female production of Hamlet, what were you excited for to begin the run?
Other than the joy of being back at the Watermill, I was very excited about it being an all-female cast. It’s very important to me to give women a platform to do what is historically known to be done by men. Hopefully it will have another life sometime after this pandemic.
What can you say about being part of the upcoming short film – Rivets?
I’m very excited about the cast and crew, Anna (Fordham) has such a care for inclusivity. She is determined to make the world, and particularly this industry, a more equal place, which I really admire. So it’s going to be a lot of womxn on set in front and behind the camera, which I always find inspiring.
How long have you been involved with the production and what are you looking forward to for the release?
Anna first asked me if I wanted to be involved and to read the script in early 2019 and I loved it immediately. I remember feeling very flattered that she gave the protagonist an Austrian heritage, as it’s very rare that I get to play where I’m actually from.
I’m excited because it’s a queer storyline, which isn’t a mainstream narrative in Austria and I’m hoping that people there will be interested to watch. So this is an amazing opportunity to create awareness and positive change.
Who is your character Lena and can you say more about her?
Lena is an Austrian woman who moved to London for her career. In the film, she returns back home to face the challenge of coming out to her family. Her friend and support, Rosie, is with her and together they figure out the best way to approach the upcoming difficulty.
What was it like booking your first professional role after graduating from Rose Bruford?
It was the most amazing thing ever. I booked The Borrowers quite far in advance before it actually started rehearsing, and just finishing the year at Rose Bruford, knowing that I had a brilliant job coming up, gave me so much strength and energy. I was really over the moon and so proud that the Watermill trusted me with a leading role straight away.
When I first got the email though, I didn’t understand that it was an offer. It was before I had an agent to deal with things like that so I was really confused. I thought it was an availability check or something, so I didn’t know what to reply and I just left it for a couple of days until they followed it up. How embarrassing, imagine if they gave it to someone else because I didn’t respond!
Had you always wanted an acting career and how did you start out in the industry?
I remember saying to my mum when I was about five that I was going to be an actor, and she really encouraged me. But then I lost sight of it and went to uni to start a chemistry degree, which was an awful choice. I enjoyed the chemistry part of it, but the physics and maths was really not my thing. My mum still tells the story of how she couldn’t believe that’s what I picked, and how relieved she was when I told her I wanted to audition for drama school instead, she is so supportive.
So, after my terrible first term at uni, I took the rest of the year off to figure out how to become an actor, and once I heard about drama schools in the UK, I knew I was going to move there to try and get in.
Other than acting, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m also a writer, so this lockdown is giving me the perfect opportunity to work on a few things. And I love sports, so you can always find me outdoors somewhere. Either rock climbing or skateboarding, or playing ball games. I also love going to the cinema, reading and playing music with my friends.
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