Interviewing Playwrights: Jennifer Cerys & Samia Djilli

In the lasted post in our Interviewing Playwrights series, Jennifer Cerys and Samia Djilli sit down to talk about their double bill of plays, Different Sand and Willow.

“In theatre it is expected to have more than one hat. It is natural to juggle.”

Sitting in Rich Mix, on a Thursday afternoon, I wait for the arrival of Jennifer Cerys and Samia Djilli, the Co-Artistic Directors of the exciting new theatre company, Lemon House Theatre.

I first meet Jennifer, a bright eyed 22-year-old, followed by smiley, 26-year-old Samia. It is clear from the first five minutes that they complement each other perfectly, from their visions of theatre, to what they both want to achieve with Lemon House Theatre.

They both regard themselves as theatre makers, Jennifer says, “In theatre it is expected to have more than one hat. It is natural to juggle.” Jennifer is an experienced writer, who has had work staged at the King’s Head Theatre to the VAULT Festival. Alongside Samia, who is also a force to be reckoned with, being the assistant producer for the Tamasha Theatre Company and she has produced short nights at the Royal Court and Theatre 503: “I come from a working class background, I am half an ethnic minority, I am a woman and all of those things; you don’t get told from young age that you can work in theatre.”

But how did they get into theatre? Jennifer from a young age came to London to watch musicals, “As a 10-year-old, I would dress up and come to London and watch these wonderful musicals. It wasn’t until later on that I found out theatre was way more than this. One of my favourite things about theatre now is that it can be a musical or it can be a one woman show set in one room telling her story. These are both equally valid forms of theatre and I love that. You can take so many risks.” This experience is different from Samia’s, who saw her first play at the age of 19, “When I got my student loan, I saw a play at the Kiln theatre, previously known as The Tricycle. For me, we couldn’t afford [theatre] growing up. If you were lucky, you could go to the cinema.”

Just looking at their CVs, they are extremely driven and focused individuals. Samia says, “There is a different way to make theatre, you don’t have to wait around for someone to give you £100,000 to do it. Through self-producing, you need to be able to do everything. You will then grow.” They are both in it for the long haul, “In terms of longevity for the company, we hope to produce other peoples work as well. It still links to what we feel we want to see on stage and letting others explore that. There is space on stage that we want to claim and that is how we are going to work. We want to give a voice to people.” 

Willow in  Rehearsal

The first of the two plays by Lemon House Theatre is Willow, written by Jennifer; this follows a story of a break-up, looking at how being certain and truthful aren’t always the same thing. Jennifer focuses on intimate plays, exploring identity and relationships, “I find it easier to write about queer women. My sister knew my sexuality before I told her because I write about queer women”. It is then a shock for me when I discover that Jennifer has never been through a break-up. “One of the actors recently said, it is really relatable and I was like, ‘thank god!’ Samia also helped me with this. I think I like the idea of romantic love, as it is a notion that I don’t understand fully yet.”

 

 

Different Sand in rehearsal

 

 

The next play is called, Different Sand, by Samia. A story that focuses on a sister relationship and them matching the needs of their father. Samia says, “I love storytelling. Whenever I got nervous or scared as a kid. My father would tell me these stories, with monsters, ghouls, from an Algerian and Arab perspective. I loved it, it calmed me.”

 

 

 

Cerys and Djilli’s, two plays may seem opposite, but they have similar ideas and coincide with one another. Jennifer says, “I am very interested in dualism. For instance, Samia’s play, is about mixed race identity of two sisters, whilst mine is about identity and how you portray yourself.” Samia leads on to say, “It makes sense when you watch both, you won’t feel like you are puckered out of one world and thrown in another. You will get a different story, but it will be smoothly transitioned.”

This will not be the last we hear from Jennifer or Samia and their company, Lemon House Theatre.  I ask what they want their future to hold, Samia wants more Algerian voices on stage, “I hope to see a canon of Algerian theatre that you can reference and we that we are put in that.”. This is similar with Jennifer in regards to queer voices and the fact that you rarely see plays with queer characters who are just being characters; this is something she wants more of on stage. Before they both go back to their full time jobs, Samia leaves the interview with one last comment, “Hopefully in 10 years’ time, Lemon House Theatre will be a funded company. We want people to take risks and explore the space. We want to provide a platform for others.”

Willow and Different Sand will shown as a double bill at the Bunker Theatre from 8th-16 September. Find out more and book tickets by clicking here. 

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