Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Sophie Dillon Moniram and Renu Brindle: Favour

By | Published on Friday 17 June 2022

You may well know by now that we here at TW Towers are big fans of Clean Break, a company whose exclusive focus is women and criminal justice, and whose output has been consistently excellent for the past forty years and more.

Their latest production is ‘Favour’, a drama about a woman leaving prison, written by Ambreen Razia, and co-directed by Sophie Dillon Moniram and Róisín McBrinn, the latter also Joint Artistic Director of Clean Break.

I was keen to find out more about the play and the creative team behind it, so I arranged a chat with co-director Sophie and cast member Renu Brindle (pictured right).

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Favour’ is all about? Where does the narrative take us?
SDM: ‘Favour’ is a family drama about a woman who returns from prison and tries to re-start the life she left. She finds that in one sense, her prison sentence didn’t end there. Her community doesn’t give her the reset she needs. It’s about the obstacles she faces in trying to re-integrate and reconnect with her daughter, but ultimately it’s a play about the bravery and resilience it takes to move on from the past.

CM: What themes are explored through the piece?
SDM: Ambreen Razia has written a really rich piece that is both true to the specificity of the British Pakistani home it is set in, but universal in the scope of its themes. It keys into addiction, reintegration, community, co-dependence and forgiveness. And as it’s Ambreen, it’s woven together with compassion and humour.

CM: Renu, can you tell us about the role you play? What do you like about it and what made you want to do this part?
RB: I play the role of Noor, the grandmother in ‘Favour’. What I like about the role is that she is a strong woman whose family comes first – she has dealt with life being an immigrant and mental illness in the family, plus she is a worker! It’s a very complex role with an amazing journey of realisation and hope and love. I feel very blessed to have been offered this part.

I took the part because of the script. Ambreen is a true genius with her writing, a real talent. Also, when I auditioned, the two directors – Róisín and Sophie – made me feel so welcome and part of a family. I knew I would be supported through the very complex journey of Noor.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the other actors involved in the play?
RB: The other cast members Avita, Ashna and Rina have become like family to me. They are so talented and I feel so supported by them. It is a joy to work with them.

CM: Sophie, what can you tell us about your directorial approach to the play? Why were you attracted to this project? And what’s it like co-directing compared to doing it alone?
SDM: I adore Ambreen’s writing. This is my third collaboration with her after ‘The Diary Of A Hounslow Girl’ and ‘POT’. We share a mutual passion for creating work that is about transformation and freedom at its core.

Co-directing with Róisín has been very organic. I have huge respect for what drives her and her work with Clean Break.

All creative relationships you have as a director are rooted in collaboration – so this has been a really invigorating version of that dynamic. We have always held the same clarity about what sits at the heart of the play, so there is trust and a solid foundation to create from.

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about the playwright and the inspiration for the play?
SDM: Ambreen is dedicated to honouring the voices of women who haven’t previously been heard. Her compassionate approach means that her characters are relatable beyond the communities that they live in.

She draws from people around her and her work in the community – in the case of ‘Favour’ this included working with women in prison. She is a brave writer who doesn’t present easy answers. I also love her sense of humour which gives her work vitality.

CM: It would be great to know a bit about your respective careers and motivations – can you each tell us about how you came to be working in the arts? Did you always want to have theatrical careers?
SDM: I set off with my directing career ten years ago. I always knew I had to work in the arts as I had a strong sense of the power the arts have to empower and transform through reminding us that things can be different – that the world we are in is not set.

I initially wasn’t sure which part of the arts I needed to be in, when I was younger I played with writing, painting and acting, but when I found directing, creating as part of a group just felt right to me from then on.

I love how many people and departments come together to make a show – I feel very grateful for the team who have come together at different stages to make this production.

RB: I went to drama school – LAMDA – late in life, as I was a dentist first. Strange! I also spent years raising my family. I started properly as an actor three years ago and I have not looked back.

I always wanted to be an actor, but being from an Asian family, at that time it was frowned upon. I always sang and danced and performed from being a toddler. It is all I ever really wanted to do. I hope my example shows it is never too late. Follow that rainbow!

CM: What have been your career highlights, thus far?
RB: So far my career highlight is ‘Favour’. Without a doubt!

SDM: Working with Ambreen over the last seven years is a creative relationship I cherish. Working at the Bush is a wish I have held for ten years now and starting tech in the space is so surreal. You bring your younger self to these moments when the dreams you set meet your reality.

CM: What aims and hopes do you have for the future?
RB: I want to do more theatre, more film, and TV work that is all of good quality and integrity, and fun.

SDM: Working with artists that inspire me and to continue to make work that is life affirming and serves its community is my hope for the future.

CM: What’s coming up next for you both after this?
SDM: My career has at the heart been about developing and directing new work, so I am very happy to be continuing that with plays in development. I am also Associate Director on ‘The Ocean At The End Of The Lane’, which, following its West End run, will be touring the UK at the end of the year.

RB: I am due to film a TV series called ‘Black Ops’ after this. I can also be seen in a recurring role in Joss Whedon’s ‘The Nevers’ and in a film called ‘Polite Society’. Both are due to air soon.

‘Favour’ is on at the Bush Theatre from 24 Jun-6 Aug. For more information and to book see the venue website here.

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Photo: Joy Olugboyega