Interview with Gloria Onitiri (Anne)


gloria head


Gloria Onitiri is currently playing Anne in Menagerie’s national tour of Janice Okoh’s Egusi Soup.

Gloria has recently played the leading lady, Rachel Marron, in The Bodyguard on the West End; Egusi Soup will be Gloria’s first distinctly Nigerian piece.

How have you found the Egusi Soup rehearsal process so far?

It’s been great fun. Everyone’s an absolute laugh. Even if you’re in a bad mood, you immediately get broken out of it because of the laughter and the joy and everyone’s personalities. It’s interesting for me being of Nigerian heritage doing a play like this; it’s the first play that I’ve done based around being Nigerian. So it’s fun for me playing the same sort of jokes that happen in my own household.

Do you recognise the Nigerian family element in Egusi Soup?

Yeah definitely, I’m from a Nigerian family so it really rings true. I’ve been eating Egusi Soup since I came out the womb- and other things; it’s not the only Nigerian dish that’s fabulous!

This is not a pastiche. These are real people. A lot of this is my own past. I’ve never been to Nigeria and see myself as British. However, having said that, I don’t feel any less of a Nigerian because I haven’t been to Nigeria. I don’t feel like I understand it any less as it is in my culture, my family, my upbringing.

Janice writes in the way Nigerian people speak. They’re very direct. This can be confused with anger or sharpness but it’s not, they’re just really direct. Janice has got it just right. Her script is phenomenal.

Do you identify with your character?

Some things Anne says, I feel like I’ve said myself in the past. I understand what drives her.

I think the most important part of when you’re building a character is to understand what their morals and values are. Ultimately, that’s what shapes us as people. For Anne, as a barrister, it’s about focus, determination, sacrifice, excellence; on that level, I can relate as that’s what I strive for in my career. At the same time, there are things I don’t identify with and those are the most interesting parts: the characters flaws. That’s the first thing I think of when I look at a script- what’s wrong with this person?

So, what’s wrong with Anne?

She can be quite selfish. But she has to be in the way that she lives her life. Ultimately that selfishness impacts on others. She’s not a bad person, she’s just quite single-minded.

Have you done much work with new writing before?

I’ve recently done a piece called Amphibians which was a site-specific piece, so I’m not a newbie to this world. I do think new writing is the way to go. You have to support the emerging talents in this country. It’s nice to get other peoples’ voices out there.

You’ve played the leading role in The Bodyguard, ‘Nala’ in The Lion King and you were part of the original West End cast of Avenue Q . How does new writing compare with the West End?

They’re not so different. A piece is a piece; your process is your process. All the roles I’ve played are all just people- or, in the Lion King, an animal!-but they’re all just personalities you have to get to grips with.  This is much more intimate than a West End show as the company is smaller; but I wouldn’t treat how I work any differently.

What are you looking forward to most about touring?

You get to reach audiences outside of London. It’s a challenge for an actor, taking something and putting it in completely different spaces. It changes you and your performance. That’s really exciting.

How would you describe Egusi Soup in three words?

Titillating, spicy, real.