Gemma's going over to the dark side of theatre

Gemma Whelan in Dark Vanilla Jungle

Gemma Whelan in Dark Vanilla Jungle

First published in Entertainments

DESPITE her show having a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year and an array of accolades, actress Gemma Whelan modestly insists she’s a jack of all trades and master of none.

Currently starring in hit TV series Game of Thrones, Whelan will be visiting Salisbury Playhouse next week with her powerful one woman show, Dark Vanilla Jungle.

She said: “It’s about a young girl who is misguided and let down by society.

“She ends up in situations in which a young girl ought not to be because she doesn’t understand quite what’s going on until it’s too late.”

The play covers themes of gang culture, female objectification and the impact of trauma on young people.

“There is some humour but it’s quite a dark piece,” said Whelan.

“It’s a magnificent challenge.

“I really liked the writing and the producers so I felt like I was in really good hands.”

The play was written by Time Out, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle awardwinning playwright Philip Ridley.

Evening Standard award-nominated David Mercatali directs and the music is by BAFTA-nominated composer Nick Bicât.

The show also won a prestigious Scotsman Fringe First Award and was nominated for Stage magazine’s Best Solo Performance Award when it was performed at Edinburgh Fringe last year.

“It’s wonderful to get awards,” said Whelan. “I wanted to do a good job and I’m proud that I managed to do somewhat of a decent job.

“But I think I got the part because they wanted somebody who was already up in Edinburgh.”

Whelan knew the producers from a previous play.

They had cast someone else for that but remembered her from the audition and asked her to do Dark Vanilla Jungle.

The run at Edinburgh was gruelling, as she was performing a one woman show every night and then doing a solo stand-up comedy show as well.

But she said the experience was “interesting and highly rewarding”.

“The hard work was performing,” she added. “It’s quite difficult to perform, but I just loved it. It was draining but very rewarding.

“I think it will be slightly easier this time as I’m just doing one show a day.”

Whelan said her acting roles have all come about quite naturally.

After training as a dancer and in musical theatre, she said “one role led on to another”.

She is currently appearing in the hugely popular HBO series Game of Thrones as Yara Greyjoy, which was a part she was very excited to get.

“It was an audition way above my station, but I worked really hard on it and I think it helped that I looked vaguely like Alfie Allen (who plays her brother Theon in the show).”

But Whelan enjoys theatre as much as filming and is looking forward to getting back to the stage.

“I think I will find lots more in it this time having had a break from it,” she said. “It’s nice to do lots of diverse things; I’m definitely a jack of all trades.”

The play wowed critics in Edinburgh and, following this national tour, will transfer to London’s Soho Theatre.

l There will be a post-show discussion with Whelan and Mercatali after the show in Salisbury on March 6.

* Dark Vanilla Jungle is at The Salberg at Salisbury Playhouse from March 6 to 8. For tickets, call 01722 320333 or visit salisburyplayhouse.com.

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