Q&A with Nyla Levy, performer in The Diary of a Hounslow Girl

7 Mar 2017

We find out how Nyla Levy feels about taking over writer Ambreen Razia’s role in The Diary of a Hounslow Girl, coming to Brighton in March.

How did you meet Ambreen?

It’s funny actually, quite serendipitous…! I had met Ambreen a couple of years ago by chance at Oval station as she was going to Ovalhouse to work on Hounslow Girl, she was with my friend Suman Butcher – who asked me “Nyla, do you know what a Hounslow Girl is?” To which I said “Um… Actually now you say that, yeah. I think I do…” I had never heard the term before, but in the same sense ‘Chelsea girls or Essex Girls’ were quick ways to pinpoint a type of style and culture… Hounslow Girl made total sense to me!

It was then at the end of last year when Ambreen was touring Diary of a Hounslow Girl, which I was desperate to see but ended up missing out on seeing her last show as I was rehearsing at Park Theatre. I was supposed to be going with my Mum… who ended up buying me the play text and told me Hounslow Girl was the “BEST THING SHE HAD EVER SEEN!” And that I had to read the script.

By chance I saw Ambreen sitting in the Park Theatre a few days later… I recognised her from the poster – and had to go up to her and pass on my Mums praises (my Mum isn’t one for compliments… So I knew Ambreen must have been incredible to have gotten my Mama’s seal of approval!) Ambreen then told me they were casting for the new Hounslow Girl in 2 days, and that I should come along! So I did, and the rest is history…!

How does it feel to take over the role from Ambreen?

It’s a massive honour that Ambreen has entrusted me with her baby. It also feels really important that Shaheedas story continues to be heard! I have never taken over a role from the writer and performer before, but the more we rehearse and delve into the story the more similarities I have found between myself and Ambreen, which is probably why I was so drawn to the character of Shaheeda. As a young British-Asian female growing up in London, I experienced similar identity questions and culture clashes. Although of course Ambreen was writing a fictional character, it was a shared experience that I can definitely relate too. Turns out myself and Ambreen went to schools that were practically next door to each other in Wimbledon!

Ambreen has been totally supportive throughout, giving me advice on touring, how to cope with the pressure of a one woman as well as being at the end of the phone for any questions or advice! It’s not often that an Actor is able to call up the Writer directly and ask them for advice! Especially the Writer who has experience of acting the whole show so knows exactly what you are going through. I feel so lucky to be in this position!

What are the challenges of performing a solo show?

I think the most important thing as a performer is to engage the audience, the sole purpose of you being on stage is to entertain them – with an hour and a bit long show, all eyes on you – every part of the story that is being told has to be absolutely compelling.

What can audiences expect from the show?

To be transported back into your teens – the angst, the banter, the tears and rage! The audience will be taken on a rollercoaster ride through a year in the life of Shaheeda.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re naughty as hell… But you’ll grow out of it. Eventually.

Book tickets to see The Diary of a Hounslow Girl at Brighton Dome on 27 Mar.