Most recently on stage, Flo Wilson was playing Miss Ma / Ensemble in the National Theatre production of Small Island, which ran from February to April, and before the pandemic, she was also in the National Theatre production of The Visit as Mrs Blatter and Mrs Balk, which unfortunately closed early due to theatres having to shut around the world. In 2019, Flo appeared in Henry V and The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York and her other stage projects include Oliver Twist at Hull Truck, One Hand Tied Behind Us at The Old Vic and Richard III for Northern Broadsides. This year, on screen, Flo has been playing Mrs. Wheatley in Series 2 of Jane Austen’s Sanditon, and Melrose in the new BBC mini-series Mood. Further credits to her extensive acting career has seen Flo play Velma in the Channel 4 film Help last year, Lulu Deloitte in an episode of Series 10 of Death in Paradise and Mrs Grainger in CBBC series All At Sea. We found out from Flo about her recent run in Small Island at the National Theatre, playing Mrs. Wheatley in Sanditon and filming for BBC mini-series Mood.
Can you tell us about your time playing Miss Ma / Ensemble in Small Island and how has it been returning to live theatre?
I enjoyed playing Miss Ma. That character was living at the same time as my grandmother, who I was fortunate to meet later in my life. I love live theatre, it’s my first love. Returning to live theatre was difficult at first, in the case of the protocols that had to be set in place for rehearsal purposes (COVID) but after learning a new structure, it seemed easy to get back into the routine of rehearsals.
How do you find the experience performing at the National Theatre and was there anything that drew you to Small Island?
It was wonderful to be back at the the National Theatre. What drew me to Small Island, was that it was my parents’ life. They left Jamaica and came to England at the time this story is set.
What have you enjoyed most about being part of the cast and playing your roles?
In my 40 years as an actor, I had never been so fortunate as to be on stage with so many people of colour. It was wonderful to be working with so many actors of different generations but with a shared heritage. Stories of their own families’ history in England in the 40s and 50s often had gaps which were filled in by other members whose parents experienced the same things.
Before the pandemic, you had been playing Mrs Blatter and Mrs Balk in The Visit, also at the National Theatre, how had the run been going?
In The Visit, we had just performed press night and had had a week of performances, just getting into the groove and the natural rhythm of the show when it had to be closed because of COVID.
In 2019, you performed at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York in Henry V and The Tempest, what are some of your favourite memories from performing in them?
Performing in a thunderstorm. It had been raining during the show and the audience, many of whom were groundlings, stood there with smiles on their faces wearing rain macs and holding umbrellas. As the thunder was getting louder, the decision was made to suspend the performance. The audience, the cast and crew went to the courtyard to wait out the storm. The theatre had been created with scaffolding so the fear was of a lightning strike. As the thunder died away into the background, we all returned and the show continued, much to the delight of the audience who enjoyed every soaking wet minute of it…. So did we.
The Airplays – On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and Soon Come won the O2 Media Award for Best Entertainment in 2019, how was it working on these projects?
It was wonderful working with Kash Arshad Kay to bring to life characters that would not be seen but only heard.
What was Oliver Twist like to be part of at Hull Truck?
I think I was the first black actress, maybe only (don’t quote me), to play Fagan. The music by John Biddle was fantastic. I truly loved singing the songs, with so many parts and harmonies.
Can you tell us about being involved with One Hand Tied Behind Us at The Old Vic in 2018?
Kit de Waal (My Name is Leon) wrote my monologue. I was honoured to be asked to perform at The Old Vic for the 100th Anniversary of a woman’s right to vote. Well, for some women.
On screen, you’ve most recently been seen playing Mrs. Wheatley in Series 2 of Sanditon, how was it joining the cast?
I have always wanted to perform in a costume drama and Jane Austen is one of my favourite classic authors and so the opportunity to do both at the same time was a dream come true. The cast were very welcoming, especially Rose Williams, and it wasn’t long before I felt like a member of the family.
What is Mrs. Wheatley like to play and how did you find your time on set of the series?
Mrs. Wheatley is a no-nonsense character. Rarely cracks a smile in public, but is loyal and loving to the Colborne family. Her family. Being on set was just stepping into history. I really hoped that I would ride in a carriage, but alas it was not meant to be.
Earlier this year, you played Melrose in new BBC drama Mood, can you tell us about your character and what was the series like to be part of?
Melrose is a Christian and a teacher who loves to give people the benefit of the doubt or a second chance. I felt very proud to be in Mood. The script, lyrics and music, all written by Nicôle Lecky, I thought was phenomenal. I only wished I’d seen her one-woman show of Superhoe (Mood) at Talawa Theatre and Royal Court. I had a great time working on this show.
Why would you recommend watching Mood and what was it like reading the script for the first time?
Reading the lyrics of a song that her (Nicôle Lecky’s) character was singing, and then in a moment the normal everyday scene, becomes a highly choreographed dance number, with members of the public, then back into reality, I just couldn’t wait to see the finished film. It was better than I had imagined. The subject matter was not easy.
How was the experience playing Velma in Help for Channel 4?
It was quite upsetting at times because of the truths about COVID, and what happened to so many families who had loved ones in nursing homes. We may have been telling a story, but it echoed the lives of real people.
You played Lulu Deloitte in an episode of Death in Paradise last year, what was this like?
It was brilliant to be filming abroad. A who done it, and who did indeed?…… Guadeloupe was the location. I felt very at home there. It reminded me at times of Jamaica, where my mother is still living after retiring from her working life in England.
Over the years, your other roles on both stage and screen include Mrs. Medlock in The Secret Garden, Queen Margaret in Richard III, Jill in After Hours and Mrs Grainger in All At Sea, can you tell us about some of them?
Playing Queen Margaret in Richard III for Northern Broadsides was my first role in a Shakespeare play. I’d wanted to perform in a Shakespearean play for such a long time and this opportunity was not one to be missed. I had a great time and learnt a lot.
Working with so many talented young people as Mrs Grainger in All At Sea was great. I’d started off my career working in young people’s theatre for around 12-15 years. I have great respect for young actors.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
Probably from school. I’ve always acted and not really known I was doing it. I’d always make up stories on the spot and perform it, just based on something someone said. It’s the same for music. I like to write music and songs. Mostly a cappella. I wrote a song for my school talent show when I was about 13, but it was banned before I got to perform it. There had been an incident of theft while some of the pupils were on a day out. I wrote a funny song about it, but the head teacher didn’t think it was a joking matter and it was pulled from the show.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I am a big sci-fi addict. Especially Star Trek. Many of my fellow actors who know me would have seen me with some trinket that is Star Trek-related. I have a lot – books, comics, films, models. I have over 70 ships. I love the Marvel films too, but that’s because I used to read the comics. Still do. In my spare time, I like to write music and make models out of wood. I’ve made bigger things like bookshelves and a refectory table with benches, but during lockdown, I went smaller and started making little wooden fairy houses with solar lights inside for my garden. I’m also attempting to make solar water features. I like the design and building element to it. As for theatre, Small Island is my favourite piece. I didn’t want it to end. It was the history of my family in Britain. From slavery to now. I’ve made some good friends during that run, and lost one. Marcel White, who passed away 2/6/22. A wonderful actor and gentleman. You are truly missed.