House of Ife: An interview with Karla-Simone Spence

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House of Ife’s world premiere will open Bush Theatre’s 50th Birthday season. Telling the story of a family coping with the tragic death of one of their own, Beru Tessama’s play explores cultural aspects of Ethiopia alongside life in London. Directed by Lynette Linton, the play will delve into the nuances of immigration and the intergenerational conflict that comes with it, as well as the sensation of belonging, whether in a community or in the family.

Karla-Simone Spence stars as Aida, the twin sister of the titular character, Ife. Spence is known for her role as Cali Okello in the six-part miniseries Gold Digger, and as Leah in the Rapman film, Blue Story. She’ll also be starring in her own series for ITV as Frannie Langton in Confessions of Frannie Langton. Eager to tell stories with a strong cultural aspect, Spence works alongside the likes of Yohanna Ephrem (The RookSurge) and Jude Akuwudike (EyimofeThe Little Mermaid) to bring House of Ife to life. The Upcoming caught up in with her to discuss her journey as an actress and her role as Aida in House of Ife.

What was the audition process like for House of Ife, and what initially drew you to this production?

The audition process was really fun for me. I had two rounds and, by the second, I really just had fun with playing in the scene with the other actors. I wasn’t even thinking about getting the part – I was just enjoying being in the room! I’ve always wanted to do theatre, but I haven’t had many auditions for it. When I received the script for House of Ife, I was really happy to read an authentic portrayal of a family that looks like me. Aida’s journey in the play was also very interesting, so I had to come in and read for her!

Tell us a bit about your character Aida and how she fits into the story.

Aida is the second eldest of the family – Ife’s twin. She was born in Ethiopia and moved to London with her family when she was five years old. Aida is an artist; she loves to paint and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art before relocating to Amsterdam. In the play, she has returned for her twin brother’s funeral and everything that has happened between the family is brought to light.

How did you prepare for the role of Aida? Did you have any advice from others in the project when it came to approaching Aida’s character?

The writer, Beru, has done an incredible job at writing three-dimensional characters. Aida was already so alive on the page, which helped make my job of bringing her to life much easier. It’s been a blessing to have the writer in the room with us because we can ask him any questions that we have, and we’ve been able to collaborate, which has been great!

Did you and the rest of the cast have any bonding sessions to help with creating the dynamics needed?

Every morning before we start rehearsing, director Lynette Linton gets us to have a group dance where we just let loose and have a bit of fun before jumping into the play. It can be quite heavy at times but I’ve really enjoyed doing it. We, as a cast, get on so well naturally! Everyone is really genuine and there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t burst out laughing!

Which character from House of Ife do you feel resonates with you the most?

Aida, of course! We’re both creatives and I love her free spirit.

How important do you think is it for stories such as House of Ife to be told in theatre, especially on a stage like the world premiere at Bush Theatre’s 50th Birthday season?

It’s so important for stories like House Of Ife to be told! How often do you get to see a play about an Ethiopian-British family? The beauty about London is that it’s a cultural melting pot and I think everyone should be celebrated and represented.

You mentioned that, prior to being an actress, you wanted to be a lawyer. What catalysed that change in your career path?

I always had a natural attraction to acting and singing, so I knew deep down the creative path was the one for me.

What projects have you got lined up after House of Ife?

After House of Ife I have a TV show coming out later in the year! I’m playing the lead role in a new limited ITV series called The Confessions of Frannie Langton.  It’s a 19th century period drama that was adapted from the novel of the same name, written by Sara Collins. And I’m really excited for everyone to see what we’ve made!

As your career progresses, do you have any particular dream roles for the future?

I would love to play a wide range of different types of characters and to lead an action movie – that would be pretty cool!

Without giving too much away, what are you excited about people getting from House of Ife?

I’m most excited for everyone to see the whole play in its entirety!

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