On my radar: Nikki Amuka-Bird’s cultural highlights

The actor on a double dose of Greek tragedy, the real-life drama of basketball, and a perfect day in Antigua

The actor Nikki Amuka-Bird, 46, was born in Nigeria and raised in Lagos, Antigua and west London. She trained at Lamda and began her career at the RSC. She was Bafta-nominated for the BBC’s adaptation of Zadie Smith’s NW; other screen credits include Luther, Small Island and The Personal History of David Copperfield. She plays Rav in Armando Iannucci’s sci-fi comedy Avenue 5 and stars in M Night Shyamalan’s new apocalyptic psychological thriller Knock at the Cabin, in cinemas from 3 February.

1. Dance

Hofesh Shechter

Political Mother by Hofesh Shechter.
‘It changed my life’: Political Mother by Hofesh Shechter. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

I first saw the work of Israeli-born choreographer Hofesh Shechter 13 years ago at Sadler’s Wells. It was a piece called Political Mother, which changed my life. He has a unique approach: very rhythmic and free, with urban influences and a live rock band on stage. My mum took me along and I’d never seen an audience respond so viscerally to contemporary dance. I wanted to be a dancer once upon a time but injured my back. This was exactly the kind of work I wanted to make. His more recent piece, Clowns, is 30 minutes long, available online and the ideal introduction.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Paperback – 27 Sept. 2016 by Elizabeth Gilbert (Author)

2. Book

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
I was talking to a friend about how, as we get older, we stay in our lanes and forget to play. She sent me this book, which was just what I needed. It’s subtitled “Creative Living Beyond Fear”, and is about expressing yourself for the sake of it, without worrying about the outcome. I love this quote: “Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” If we get out of our own way and just embrace creativity, something wonderful will happen. That’s something I hope to explore this year.

3. Theatre

Medea, Soho Place, London

Sophie Okonedo in Medea.
Acting as extreme sport: Sophie Okonedo in Medea. Photograph: Jo Allan PR

I’ve always been fascinated by Greek tragedy and how it had a function in society as a catharsis, a cleansing experience. We’ve got two productions about to open in London – Janet McTeer in Phaedra (at the National) and Sophie Okonedo in Medea – and I can’t wait to see both. Sophie has incredible emotional facility and just leaves it all out there on the stage, so for her to be playing one of the most shattering roles in history is exciting. It’s like the extreme sport of acting. I’m here for it.

4. TV

Last Chance U: Basketball (Netflix)

KJ Allen and Joe Hampton in the ‘inspiring’ Last Chance U: Basketball.
KJ Allen and Joe Hampton in the ‘inspiring’ Last Chance U: Basketball. Netflix Photograph: Netflix

I watch The White Lotus and Happy Valley like everyone else but also love sports films, especially basketball documentaries. It’s real-life drama. This series follows East LA College team the Huskies. You get to know all the players and head coach, John Mosley. He gives them tough love but he’s hard on them because this isn’t just about winning, it’s about getting opportunities and making a better life. I find sports psychology inspiring. We get a lot of knockbacks in our industry, so it’s good to see how people bounce back.

5. Restaurant

Dennis’s on Ffryes beach, Antigua

Dennis Cocktail Bar & Restaurant in Antigua.
‘Have a few rum punches and relax’: Dennis Cocktail Bar & Restaurant in Antigua. Photograph: Dennis Cocktail Bar & Restaurant/Facebook

I grew up in Antigua and try to go back every year. One of my favourite days out is going through Fig Tree Drive and along the coastline to Ffryes beach – hands-down one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’ll have fish goujons to start, then creole shrimp with rice and peas, followed by bread-and-butter pudding with rum-and-raisin ice-cream. You might have to wait for your food because you’re on West Indian time, but have a few rum punches and relax.

6. Film

Both Sides of the Blade (dir. Claire Denis, 2022)

Vincent Lindon and Juliette Binoche in Both Sides of the Blade.
Vincent Lindon and the ‘fearless’ Juliette Binoche in Both Sides of the Blade. Photograph: Berlin Film Festival 2022

I always return to French cinema, and Juliette Binoche’s work gets better and better – more fearless and emotionally raw than ever. Both Sides of the Blade is about a love triangle. She’s happily married, then bumps into the one that got away and it disrupts everything. I first saw her in The English Patient, then Three Colours: Blue. I’ve been a huge admirer ever since. On a rainy afternoon you can rely on Binoche.

7. Art

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With the Night, Tate Britain, London

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s A Transformation, 2022.
‘This show felt like coming home’: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s A Transformation, 2022. Photograph: Sam Day/Tate/Courtesy the artist, Corvi-Mora, London, and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is a British artist with Ghanaian parents and she’s a wonder. She paints portraits of fictitious people who feel familiar, but there’s this soulful quality, a dreamlike mystery to them. This exhibition is her most expansive yet. It’s a celebration of melanin that I’ve never seen before at the Tate. On a personal level that meant a huge deal to me. Going to galleries when I was little, it was mostly European artists with European subjects. It’s wonderful to watch kids going to the Tate now, and these beautiful characters being part of how they learn about art. I found myself sitting there for ages, just taking it in. It felt like coming home.


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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