We chatted to James about starring in The Darkest Part of the Night at the Kiln Theatre.

©Tristram Kenton

Hi James could you explain what The Darkest Part of the Night is about? The Darkest Part of the Night is the story of Dwight, a West Indian boy growing up in Leeds in the early 1980s. Dwight’s undiagnosed autism is consistently misunderstood by those around him. His family are trying their best, but are repeatedly thwarted by the authorities, who’s ignorance and inherent racism drive the family to breaking point.   

What was it about the play that made you want to be part of this production? Dwight’s story is more relevant than ever. Although there’s a far greater understanding of mental illness these days, young people with psychological and developmental issues found their (often undiagnosed) conditions becoming far worse over lockdown. And it appears to be a global problem. 

How does it feel to be bringing Zodwa Nyoni’s play to the Kiln Theatre? I did a play at the Tricycle in 2008 (Roy Williams’ ‘Days Of Significance’) and I loved the place (the Tricycle was renamed the Kiln in 2018). It was a bit rough and ready back then, but still one of the great London fringe venues. So it’s great to be back!

What were your first impressions of the play when you read it? It’s a smartly-written, incredibly heartfelt piece. I know the subject is something close to Zodwa and that closeness creates an emotional resonance that you’re compelled as a reader – and audience member – to engage with.

How has it been working with Nancy Medina? I’ve done a few workshops with Nancy, but this is my first full production with her. She’s one of the warmest, most generous directors I’ve ever worked with. Because the play is quite harrowing, it’s important to keep things as light as possible in the room. She manages that, while at the same time examining the text in forensic detail and giving actors space to explore character. Exactly what you want from a director, really.   

What have you enjoyed the most about being part of this production? Playing the teacher (Mr. Campbell) has been a chance to portray that driven, embittered man we all remember from our schooldays. And, although he’s unable to see Dwight as anything other than a burden on the education system, Zodwa has written him with enough nuance to give him genuine depth and complexity.   

By Emma Clarendon

The Darkest Part of the Night continues to play at the Kiln Theatre until the 13th August.