My Dad thrives on family history, as Impey’s we know that we descend from Bedfordshire where our ancestors farmed young trees or shoots called Impes. At the age of 22 my Dad headed to Guyana as a VSO on 9 September 1967 and met my Mum, a Guyanese native and one of 9 siblings, while teaching in the same school.
Here is where my history begins and it stretches over land and sea. Just after slavery was abolished my Mum’s ancestors were taken from Andhra Pradesh in India to Guyana to work the plantations in the place of the slaves, which is why Guyana is made up of so many different ethnicities.
In 1969 after they married and the ‘two teachers wed’ article was published in the Guyana Chronicle, they went back and forth from Scotland to Guyana, studying and having my two brothers until finally settling in Ipswich were I was born.
Drama school taught me that I can play anything; older, younger, I even played a boy called Salim in my third year final show, which unsurprisingly stirred the interest of my, then soon to be, agent. When I left however, the doors seem to close and the only roles I went up for were ‘Bengali Girl’, that’s actually what they all said, and even then my hair (being curly) was not typically Bengali, so often I was turned away without even having read for the part. I started to straighten my hair and scored my first role as a ‘Bengali Revolutionary Soldier’, in a sight specific piece at the Eden Project. After this I played Scheherazade in Arabian Nights and then the business started to go colour blind. I played Bess from the 1700’s, fantastical characters such as Gretal and Cinderella, the surprise child of two white parents in The Curiosity shop, which only seemed to bother me as I feared the reveal wouldn’t be as effective. The truth of the characters came from being human and I was being given the opportunity to change the way history looked, allowing more people to see themselves in places that they had never been and isn’t that what theatre is about. Here I am now, in a play set just after the second world war, dressed as a land girl, boldly going where hardly any mixed race females have gone before.
So far, on every opening night, my Mum and Dad have sent me a card, with a poem my Dad has written in it and a little gift associated with the part I was playing. For Hansel and Gretel it was a little model furnace, for Cinderella it was a model fireplace that lit up and a broom. The opening night of Much Ado was no different, I received a necklace in the shape of a star that said HERO but the card was particularly special. On the front of the card was a picture of a 19 year old girl who was dressed in Land Army regalia, her name was Ellen Wicks and it turns out that she was my Dad’s older Cousin. Inside was a poem that brought tears to my eyes:
There’s Much ado about our house
That would make our cousin Nellie stir
To think we have a hero here
who’s performing bravely just like her
As she strolled down loves leafy lane
She met her Handsome soldier Sam
She would not have another man
Now shake a leg and play your part
Give the audience a thrill
Inspire young thespian types
To pledge to hone their skills.
Ellen (Auntie Nellie to us) joined the Women’s Land Army in 1942 and although she had never been out of the East End or the city itself, she marched proudly to Gulson’s farm in the village of Boxted to carry out her wartime duties. Also situated in that area, after being transferred and part of the SAS 2 regiment was Sam Warwick and in 1945 after the war was over they left the farm to start their lives together. They would be married and together for 68 years until separated by Ellen’s death in 2013. I remember Auntie Nellie so clearly, her smile, her welcoming hugs and how she made everyone around her feel like they were part of a much bigger story and of course we are. Both Ellen and Sam and Mum and Dad have shown me that love can stand any distance and weather any fight and it has been an incredible inspiration in playing Hero who is reunited with her love Claudio, after he has been away fighting for many years. On an incredible day in Salisbury, Ellen and Sam’s son Paul Warwick came to see the show and without knowing I had received my Dad’s card, sent ahead of him the same picture of Nellie with a link to a blog that he had written about his parents story, it is truly magical so do give it a read:
I believe that jobs come to you for a reason and this one seems to have brought our family full circle to a poignant moment when War brought two lovers together. I feel so proud as a descendant of Ellen Wicks, to represent the hard work that all of those young women did and to be a very visible example of how love created families after the War of many duel heritages. This play is full of the Joy and celebration of the end of the war and every night just before I step on stage I whisper to myself ‘This one is for Nellie‘.