On my radar: Pearl Mackie’s cultural highlights

The actor and singer, who plays Bill Potts in Doctor Who, on Attenborough’s underwater epic, sharing her mum’s taste in vintage soul and designer trainers

Born in Brixton, Pearl Mackie is a graduate of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Early roles included the music comedy Svengali, daytime soap Doctors, and the West End production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. She shot to fame this spring playing dinner lady Bill Potts, sidekick to Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor in his final series of Doctor Who, and the first gay main companion in the show’s 54-year history. Her farewell appearance as Bill comes in Doctor Who’s Christmas Day special at 5.30pm on BBC1. She also stars alongside Stephen Mangan, Zoe Wanamaker and Toby Jones in a new production of The Birthday Party, running at London’s Harold Pinter theatre from 9 January.

1 | Play

Barber Shop Chronicles

Cyril Nri plays Emmanuel in Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre
Cyril Nri as Emmanuel in Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre. Photograph: Marc Brenner Photograph: Marc Brenner

The best thing I’ve seen in a theatre for a long time. This play by Inua Ellams is back at the National for a last few weeks, so even if it’s sold out, go and get returns. It’s got a big cast, a bold set, it’s vibrant and loud as it leaps between barber shops in Peckham to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra. There’s song, dance and audience participation, where they have proper patter with you. It explores the fragility of black masculinity, father-and-son relationships, migration, Mugabe, the media, and illuminates perspectives that you don’t necessarily hear all the time. I cried, but I also laughed loads. I was fully moved.

2 | Film


Mary J Blige and Rob Morgan in Mudbound
Mary J Blige and Rob Morgan in Mudbound – ‘an emotive and visceral story’. Photograph: Netflix Photograph: Steve Dietl/Netflix

This is the first Netflix feature to be simultaneously released in cinemas, which could change the shape of the film industry, so that’s exciting. It’s also a truly beautiful film, directed by a black woman called Dee Rees, about two guys – one white, one black – who return to rural Mississippi after fighting in the second world war. They end up working on the same farm and form a touching friendship, but family issues, PTSD and racism all bubble to the surface. It gets horribly harrowing towards the end, but it’s an emotive, visceral story. And Mary J Blige is in it, which is a bonus. Sometimes when musicians appear in films, it can be cringey, but she’s brilliant. I was like, “Yes girl, do it!” I cried. I’m quite a cryer, especially on planes. I cried at Moana on a plane recently.

3 | Music

Leon Bridges

The gospel and soul singer Leon Bridges
The gospel and soul singer Leon Bridges. Photograph by Sarah Lee for the Observer Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

His song River was on the Big Little Lies soundtrack, and via that I discovered the album Coming Home. It’s old-school soul with hints of gospel, blues and haunting storytelling. I recently did that Spotify radio thing [an automatic playlist] based on this album and it came up with the best playlist ever. I’m claiming I compiled it myself, obviously. My mum has better taste in music than I could ever dream of having. I grew up listening to Motown and Marvin Gaye. She’s got a very extensive, eclectic record collection, so I thank her for that.

4 | TV

Blue Planet II

Blue Planet II. ‘I’m fascinated the sea – it’s scary and unknowable’
Blue Planet II. ‘I’m fascinated the sea – it’s scary and unknowable.’ Photograph by Audun Rikardsen Photograph: Audun Rikardsen

My favourite TV show this year, apart from Big Little Lies. David Attenborough is the grandfather of the nation, and it’s so epic. I’ve always been fascinated by the sea – it’s so scary and unknowable, we’ve barely scratched the surface. The way creatures have evolved down there… Never underestimate a fish – that’s a motto to live by. The “making of” sections are awe-inspiring. When the cameramen are in super-deep water, surrounded by sharks – hats off to those guys, I’d be freaking out. In terms of TV drama, I absolutely adore The Crown, and Feud looks incredible. I’ve told my mum to record it so we can binge on it over Christmas.

You Can’t Touch My Hair (And Other Things I Still Have to Explain) by Phoebe Robinson

5 | Book

You Can’t Touch My Hair (And Other Things I Still Have to Explain)

Wonderfully written by a black feminist comedian, Phoebe Robinson, this is so hilarious I cackled out loud like a weirdo when reading it. It starts with the idea of people touching black people’s hair, which is something that’s happened to me many times. People just feel the need to touch it and dive straight in without even asking. Obviously I can’t put it as funnily as she does, but that becomes a jumping-off point for an exploration of being a black woman who doesn’t fit into stereotypes. Which shouldn’t even exist anyway, because we’re all individuals. A great insight into the contemporary black experience.

6 | Designer

Off White

Off White trainers: ‘They might have to be a little Christmas present to myself'
Off White trainers: ‘They might have to be a little Christmas present to myself.’ Photograph: virgil abloh / off white

This is a designer streetwear label started by Kanye West’s creative director, Virgil Abloh. I love how individual, playful and witty their pieces are, and they do amazing collaborations. There’s this sick pair of deconstructed Nike Air Max which are all undyed creams and whites with “foam” written on the sole. They did a pair of knee-high Vetements boots with “for walking” up the side. I’m normally too scared to buy pricey designer clothes, but I’m partial to this stuff. The trainers might have to be a little Christmas present to myself.

7 | Website


Vinterior: ‘It’s perfect for me: vintage pieces from independent antique dealers'
Vinterior: ‘It’s perfect for me: vintage pieces from independent antique dealers.’ Photograph: Vinterior.co Photograph: Vinterior.co

I just got a new house, so I’m trying to gather some furniture. I got sucked into Vinterior by a targeted ad on Instagram, but it’s perfect for me: vintage pieces from independent antique dealers. I only just realised you can search by price, which is a revelation because before I’d type in “large table” and it’d come up with a palace’s 120-seater banqueting table for 15 grand. Not what I need, although I do like to eat. You can find bargains on light fittings, mirrors and other bits and bobs. I keep putting things in my basket, then losing out on them, which is quite sad. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this. Observer readers will outbid me.


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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