We caught up with award winning actor and writer, Lolita Chakrabarti who credits her Selly Oak school for sparking a love of theatre and putting her on the path to RADA and beyond
We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve interviewed talented Brummies who have been inspired to explore a life they might have discounted if it weren’t for a stand-out teacher. It’s possible they’d have found their way regardless, but maybe not. Lolita Chakrabarti for instance, wasn’t from an acting family and didn’t visit the theatre. A school trip as a teenager was Lolita’s introduction and she was totally hooked from the get-go. She recalls: “That teacher was instrumental in getting me into theatre. She took us to the RSC and the West End among others. I remember when we were studying Shakespeare, we went to see Richard III which blew my socks off.”
While Lolita had performed in public speaking competitions at school, acting was another story. The idea of it as a career was a bit of a leap that her father thought she’d grow out of. However, once Lolita had secured her place at RADA and it became more than a hobby, her dad was thoroughly supportive.
The body of work Lolita has amassed is a stunning array of accomplished acting roles as well as superb writing projects. Not least Hymn at the Almeida. The play, initially live streamed thanks to Covid, opened to actual audiences in July, moving and delighting in equal measure. Tender and heartfelt, and also starring Lolita’s husband, Adrian Lester alongside Danny Sapani, Hymn tells the story of two strangers that meet at the funeral of a man who, it turns out, is the father of them both. The play charts the friendship and the bond they build as their lives become intertwined. The writing is sensitive and well observed while Adrian and Danny as Gil and Benny bring chemistry with bells on – remarkable given strict social distancing had to be observed. Lolita adds: “I’m so grateful to the Almeida for being so inventive and able to make it happen.”
Covid hit the filming of the BBC hit Vigil too. Lolita says: “We filmed the first three episodes in Glasgow then we were stood down and filming halted. Acting stops for nobody, so it was very new.” Filming picked up again five or six months on, but it was different. “Normally filming is sociable, but there were protocols in place. Everyone was separate. I’m very grateful it worked, but it was very strange.”
LIFE OF PI
This month is a biggie for Lolita as her adaptation of Yan Martell’s celebrated novel, Life of Pi opens at Wyndham’s Theatre. Lolita enthuses: “I just loved the book and have such affection for it. Yan Martell was very generous and gave me free reign really.” The trailer shows off the drama of the story with some inventive staging and superb puppetry. Also, this month, Lolita stars in Show Trial on BBC One. Created by Ben Richards, Show Trial is a five-part drama that explores how prejudice, politics and the media distort the legal process.
Although obviously linked, acting and writing are two different jobs with very different time frames. “It’s like having two careers. They both have demands. I’m in a position now where I can tell the stories I really want to write and accept roles I really want. I’m not complacent about it because it hasn’t always been that way.” It was a bit of boredom between acting jobs that led Lolita to writing in the first place. “I’d tried pottery and was hopeless at that, so I started writing short stories. Then I enjoyed it and thought about trying to make them better. I did this for quite a few years, then I sold a short story for a bit of money. It wasn’t a plan.” The timing and commitment differ wildly. “Writing can take years and completely hooks me. With acting you’re hired sometimes two weeks before and you’re in.”
While Birmingham isn’t physically home anymore, it still feels like home to Lolita. “I have such fond memories. I don’t have family here anymore, but Adrian does, so we still have that link.” Lolita is now an Associate Artist at The REP and it was in Brum where, as teens Lolita met Adrian, so there’s shared nostalgia too. By their early twenties Lolita and Adrian had a production company together and while they might not have set out to become acting royalty, we’d hand them that crown. A multitude of awards between them for both writing and acting plus recognition in the Queen’s honours list for services to drama – Lolita received an OBE earlier this year – is all well and good, but more impressively they are the only couple to have both appeared on the cover of Birmingham Living. Bravo.