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BWW Interview: Yasmin Paige chats ONCE UPON A TIME IN NAZI OCCUPIED TUNISIA at the Almeida Theatre

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We chat to Yasmin Paige about how she’s coped over the last 18 months, her career highlights and what drew her to take part in this production.

BWW Interview: Yasmin Paige chats ONCE UPON A TIME IN NAZI OCCUPIED TUNISIA at the Almeida Theatre
Ethan Kai and Yasmin Paige in rehearsals

Yasmin Paige has appeared in a range of stage and screen roles since childhood, including TV's Glue and The Sarah Jane Adventures, as well as Richard Ayoade's hit film Submarine. Before Covid-19 struck, she was starring in Leopoldstadt, which temporarily closed during lockdown.

She's now back on stage and taking part in the world premiere of Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied Tunisia at the Almeida Theatre.

She chats to us about coping over the last 18 months, her career highlights and what drew her to this production.

Can you tell us a bit about Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied Tunisia?

The show is set in Tunisia at the start of the Second World War when the Nazis went there.

It's about a group of four Tunisian friends: a Jewish couple and a Muslim couple. It's set during a time when Tunisia was very diverse, there were lots of Jewish people living there, and they'd been under French occupation for a very long time already, and then the Nazis came.

The show is all about how the entrance of the Nazis completely reshapes and changes the lives of this group of people who were very close friends.

It sounds very serious, but it's also very funny. The writer, Josh Azouz, has written a very heart-warming but also hilarious piece. So it's really special.

What drew you to take part in this show?

I thought it'd be a really fun thing to do. It's very funny, there's a lot of action in it, and I just thought it would be a challenge, something different.

I've been in a lot of plays about Jewish people and their persecution, and this is written in a completely different way. It comes from a fresh angle, and that's why I was really interested in doing it.

How does it feel to be going back on stage?

BWW Interview: Yasmin Paige chats ONCE UPON A TIME IN NAZI OCCUPIED TUNISIA at the Almeida Theatre
Ethan Kai, Pierro Niel-Mee,
Yasmin Paige and Laura Hanna
in rehearsals

I'm very excited, but also really scared because it's been a very long time. The pandemic was tough on everyone, but especially on the arts. I didn't know when I would get back on the stage again.

I think when we first step out there and have an actual audience, I will be very emotional because it's been almost two years since I was on the stage.

You were previously in Leopoldstadt before Covid-19 closed the theatres in 2020. That experience must have been tough.

Yes, very tough. Leopoldstadt came to an abrupt close because of Covid-19, and I was absolutely devastated. It felt like I was in grief, and it took a long time to get over that. Overnight my whole world changed; I lost my job, my income, and just like everyone in the country, I lost my freedom. I couldn't go out and I didn't know what was going to happen.

I think especially being in the arts, the hardest thing was that complete uncertainty. I was meant to have an income and an experience, and all of that was taken away from me in an instant. It was very scary, and I was in shock. Suddenly my life for the next year didn't look the same.

How did you cope with that?

Amazingly, I stayed in contact with everyone from Leopoldstadt through a WhatsApp group, and throughout lockdown we would speak to each other. That was the saviour really, staying in contact and keeping the spirit of togetherness.

Now that the show is up and running again, it's amazing. I can't wait to go back and see all my friends in it.

BWW Interview: Yasmin Paige chats ONCE UPON A TIME IN NAZI OCCUPIED TUNISIA at the Almeida Theatre
Yasmin Paige and Laura Hanna

Being in a show during a pandemic must be a very different experience!

Covid-19 could still really trip us up if any of us get sick, so we've tested multiple times a week just to come into rehearsal. If anything happens, we probably wouldn't be able to do the show, so that fear for us is still there. Covid really can destroy everything we're trying to do - it's a threat for us, and it's hard.

We're trying to remain positive, and we're giving it our all. We just hope that we make it to the end, and when we do, we'll be very, very happy.

How does it feel to be taking part in a world premiere?

It's really exciting! I hope people enjoy it, I'm sure they will. It's fun too, it's such a funny show. I can't wait to hear people's reactions.

You've been acting since childhood and have been in a range of TV, theatre and film. What are your proudest career moments?

I always find that a tough question. Some time ago I would have probably said being in the film Submarine, because the experience of doing it was amazing for me.

But now I think I would actually say just the fact that I'm still here and still acting, that I've persevered, and stayed through it, that's probably what I'm most proud of. I think it's a really tough industry, and it's not always designed to keep you in a good space. There are pros and cons of being in it, and it's not an easy industry to stay in. So just the fact I'm still here and still doing this is probably my biggest achievement, and I'm very humbled and thankful for that.

Any dream projects you'd love to do?

I would love to be in an out-and-out comedy, like a farce. Our show has a farcical element to it, but an out-and-out comedy would be amazing and so much fun to do. Or something with proper combat or fighting in it because I also love that!

Why should people come and see Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied Tunisia?

Josh Azouz is a beautiful playwright who brings a fresh voice. It's a story that no one really knows too; I didn't know about this story or this region.

It's nice to experience a new and unheard history about the diversity and community between these two religions. I think it does a lot of good to remember this very rich history, and that's exciting to see.

Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied Tunisia runs at the Almeida Theatre until 18 September.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner


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