On my radar: Susan Wokoma’s cultural highlights

The Crazyhead and Chewing Gum actor on a podcast about grief, some mind-blowing electronica, and the perfect pre-theatre venue

Born in Southwark, south London, Susan Wokoma made her acting debut aged 18 in Bafta-winning docudrama That Summer Day (2006), before going on to train at Rada. Wokoma has since starred in Channel 4’s Crashing, as Cynthia in E4 comedy Chewing Gum, and as the lead in E4/Netflix co-production Crazyhead; she made her film debut in 2013’s Half of a Yellow Sun. In 2016 she won the BBC audio drama award for best supporting actor for her role in the radio adaptation of Marie NDiaye’s Three Strong Women. From 25 September, Wokoma will star in James Graham’s political comedy Labour of Love at London’s Noel Coward theatre; from 20 September she will be in Dave original comedy Porters.

1 | Documentary
Step (dir Amanda Lipitz, 2017)

Tayla Solomon, Cori Grainger and Blessin Giraldo from the documentary Step.
Tayla Solomon, Cori Grainger and Blessin Giraldo from the documentary Step. Photograph: Jeff Vespa/WireImage

This is a brilliant film about a step group – step is a dance using your body as percussion, like in the Step Up films – in a high school in Baltimore, and the backdrop is the death of Freddie Gray and the riots in Baltimore. Every time I see a documentary, it’s kind of an arty pat on the back that I’m stepping out of fictional worlds, but the moment I started watching this, I burst into tears. These girls who look like me, or remind me of the girls I went to school with – we were going to stay with their stories from beginning to end. Normally those people appear for a couple of scenes and then are gone, but this was championing them in a way you’d normally see with other protagonists.

2 | Podcast

Cariad Lloyd, comedian and host of Griefcast.
Cariad Lloyd, comedian and host of Griefcast. Photograph: Cariad Lloyd of Griefcast podcast handout pic

I absolutely love this podcast by comedian Cariad Lloyd. Losing somebody is such an important topic that will affect us all, if it hasn’t already, and talking to comedians is probably the most successful way to broach the subject. Probably my favourite episode is with actress Beth Rylance, who talks about losing her mother when she was very young, and grieving for someone you never knew. I’ll be a guest in a few months. Cariad lost her dad, and I lost my dad about five years ago. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a club – you can tell when somebody has lost someone very dear to them, and you bond over it. No one really understands it until you’ve been through it.

3 | Music
Holy Fuck

Holy Fuck performing at Bumbershoot festival, Seattle, in 2009.
Holy Fuck performing at Bumbershoot festival, Seattle, in 2009. Photograph: C Flanigan/FilmMagic

I got taken by my boyfriend to see their gig at the Jazz Cafe in Camden. I’m normally quite cautious when a boyfriend goes “You should watch this movie, or listen to this band”, because I feel like they’re trying to educate me, and I have my own tastes. But I was completely blown away. I wouldn’t normally say I was into electronica but they were incredible. I was so sceptical – I walked in thinking “I’m not going to like this”, and then I ended up loving it.

4 | TV
This Country (BBC3)

Daisy May Cooper and Martin Mucklowe in This Country.
Daisy May Cooper and Martin Mucklowe in This Country. Photograph: BBC/Inez Gordon

I went to drama school with Daisy May Cooper – who co-wrote This Country with her brother – and she is hands down the funniest person I know. It’s one of the cleverest comedies in a long time, and really tapped a nerve in what it’s like to be white working class in an area that’s meant to be the pinnacle of the Chipping Norton set. When you think of the Cotswolds, you think of David Cameron and all those guys, but actually the people who are surrounded by all that heritage are just bored and getting up to no good. I’ve watched it four times now.

5 | Theatre
Yerma (Young Vic)

The “phenomenal, instinctive” Billie Piper with Brendan Cowell in Yerma at the Young Vic.
The “phenomenal, instinctive” Billie Piper with Brendan Cowell in Yerma at the Young Vic. Photograph: Johan Persson

Yerma is a Lorca play about a woman who wants to have a child and can’t – “yerma” means “barren”. Billie Piper is a phenomenal, instinctive, visceral actress, and this was one of the best performances I’ve seen in years. You just don’t know what she’s going to do next – she’s so unpredictable on stage, and it’s a thrill to see live theatre and not know where it’s going, at all. I don’t feel connected to the idea of yearning for a child, and yet she completely draws you in. For the first time, I understood what that pain must be like. It’s completely sold out but they’re doing an NT Live broadcast on 31 August. It’s a tragedy, so take a tissue.

Lonely Courage by Rick Stroud

6 | Book
Lonely Courage by Rick Stroud

I sometimes co-host the Guilty Feminist podcast and we did an episode on intrepid women. Our guest was Rick Stroud, talking about this book about women who fought to free Nazi-occupied France. The SOE [Special Operations Executive] recruiting officer Sir Selwyn Jepson went to Churchill and said, “I think women would actually be really good for this,” so he recruited 39 women from different backgrounds. Probably my favourite was Noor Inayat Khan, who came from a noble Indian Muslim family and was a complete pacifist – not what second world war officers like in our heads – who became a spy. There’s a quote I absolutely love: “Women... have a far greater capacity for a cool and lonely courage than men.”

7 | Restaurant
Cafe Monico, Shaftesbury Avenue, London

The interior of Cafe Monico.
The interior of Cafe Monico. Photograph: Katherine Rose/The Guardian

This is sandwiched in between the Gielgud theatre and the Queen’s theatre, and it’s just one of those perfect pre-theatre dining places. It has a beautiful interior that’s meant to hark back to 1878 France, the staff are lovely, and they have the most amazing bread basket and butter. That’s a good sign, that before you’ve ordered anything, the thing that’s put in front of you is incredible. I’m down there pretty much every day. I’m normally by the window, with a bread basket, oysters – because I don’t know who I think I am – a glass of prosecco, and a good book.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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