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Philip Arditti and Nina Bowers - English Kings Killing Foreigners Interview

ENGLISH KINGS KILLING FOREIGNERS is a tell-all dark comedy peeling back English cultural identity, which will run at Camden People’s Theatre from 23rd April - 11th May 2024
Philip Arditti (he/him) and Nina Bowers (she/they) write and star in this darkly funny and unflinching look at nationalism, intersecting identities … and Henry V.  
Inspired by Nina and Phil’s real-life experience of starring in several productions of Henry V including at Shakespeare's Globe in 2019 where they first met.  Both performers bring their extensive backgrounds in British theatre and of performing Shakespeare, to this ‘silly show about serious things’. 

The piece asks; what does it mean to cast a Global Majority actor in a Shakespeare play? How does a non-white, non-English person fit into this most English hero-making story? And shows us what the cost might be to the artists taking on these roles.

Ahead of the run we caught up with Nina and Phil to learn more.

Were there any people or performances that had a big impact on your formal years? 

NINA - I remember seeing a circus performance at the Southbank centre when I was a kid. It was a solo show and at one point the performer created an illusion where a toy train went through her stomach. It was magic.  
PHIL - As a teenager I saw a three person stage version of The Alchemist by Paul Coelho starring the legendary Turkish actor Genco Erkal. At one point with the help of a very large cloth which covered the whole stage, Genco became the sun. It was stunning.  
Where did the inspiration for this piece come from? 
NINA - Phil and I were both part of the Globe ensemble in 2019 performing Shakespeare history cycle; these really dense plays about civil war and unrest where every second word was England. And we started to have these intense backstage discussions about what it meant to perform those plays TODAY and in our bodies.  
PHIL - We were inspired by the conversations we were having about Henry and how Shakespeare makes his ruthless militarism acceptable and even to be celebrated.  
You met on Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2019, how instant did you form a bond? 
NINA - I really can't remember, it just always seemed like we were talking- do you Phil? 
PHIL - I think quite early on in the year of work at the Globe we realised we liked talking about theatre. Michelle Terry’s Globe Ensemble experiment was conducive to questioning, experimenting and gave us performers quite a bit of space to voice our thoughts and we seemed to like to do that.  
How do you cope with comments regarding your race especially when it comes to casting? 
NINA - I haven't received direct comments about race in the industry, I think it comes down more subliminally, I'll get casting breakdowns especially for commercials and more TV stuff which specifies like; ‘Racially Ambiguous’, I always cringe when I see that on a description it's kind of sinister, suggesting you'll have a broader appeal if people can't identify you racially and it speaks to the all the colourism and featurism present in the industry. Once, I had an agent tell me at drama school I was the ‘acceptable face of race’: in a lot of ways I think that's true, it's something I seek to question in the work that I make, I don't want my body to be used to perpetuate those ideas of acceptability and exclusion. I don't want to be complicit. 
PHIL - Solidarity, sharing my experience with other people of similar background, creating bonds with fellow marginalised artists and professionals is my way of coping with it all.  
I helped set up a network of professionals from the Middle East, North Africa and Surrounding region and that community has really helped me understand how I can equip myself against the othering I’ve come across.  
What do you think Shakespeare would make of your piece? 
NINA - HAHA I love this question, I really don't know, I wonder what he'd think in general about how often we do his work! I think everyone will get different things from our show. I'd love to have a healthy debate with him after he'd seen it!  
PHIL - He’d say: “Well done for getting Arts Council Funding for your show guys. God knows it’s not easy making work in the UK at the moment. Tbh it never was.” 

Do you think the casting world has gotten better in recent times or not? 
NINA - Yes, I do I think casting is always moving with the times, it no longer goes unquestioned when all white production is announced. I still think we have further to go though, especially with the pressure on theatres to be commercially successful, maybe it's becoming more important to have big names and general appeal, take fewer risks on unknown faces/stories. I think by constantly questioning whether things could be better and how they could be better, we commit to progress and that's important. It's also important to note that casting is the end of the process if everyone else is white except the actors on stage, there's a problem. 
PHIL - It feels like there’s more conversations happening around better casting practices and people are trying to be more sensitive and considerate, which is great. But hasn't self-taping been an absolute disaster for the business? What was already a difficult and strange process has become even more removed and disconnected.  
If you could ask Shakespeare one question, what would you ask him?  
NINA - Did you really write them?  
PHIL - How do you take your tea? 
What do you think could be improved in terms of diversity in casting? 
NINA - I think we should look at creative integration and intention instead of diversity, actors should be incorporated as collaborators, not as tokens.  
PHIL - It’s great that actors from marginalised communities are more visible on the stage. It was a handful of people 20 years ago. For me, the future of theatre is to include performers and all creatives in the making process. I never really internalised the quick turnaround UK producing model (few weeks rehearsals, few weeks run). This is really at the root of so many issues. It creates short term relationships, precarious work conditions and product-focused work. And casting becomes the barometer of progress but, in reality, it should be how much job security and say those GM performers/creatives have in the shaping of the story and structures they work in. 
If you were a biscuit, what would you be and why?  
NINA - A party ring…cause I love to party!  
PHIL - I’d probably be a croissant because I’m not much of a biscuit person. 
What keeps you inspired? 
NINA - Things that confuse me that I don't have answers to, the stuff that's hard to work out and hard to say out loud. 
PHIL - Friendships, long lasting relationships are very inspiring. Conversations that go on and on. 
What does theatre and performing mean to you?  
NINA - Theatres’ really my first love there's nothing better than a live crowd and I do think at its best it creates space to think and feel new things in new ways. 
PHIL - Wow! So many things. A sense of home and community, an ongoing challenge, a never-ending game.  
What do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing English Kings Killing Foreigners? 
NINA - I hope they think about our show next time they see a Shakespeare play. I hope it inspires long conversations!  
PHIL- That it’s a silly show about serious things.  
English Kings Killing Foreigners is at the Camden People’s Theatre from Tuesday 23rd April to Saturday 11th May. For information about accessible performances, tickets, and more show details, visit:  

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