Posted: 27 February 2024

Artist Spotlight: Writer & Actor, NAOMI DENNY

Naomi is an English & Bajan actress and writer from Brighton. She is a Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab Alumni and is the first recipient of Tamasha’s artist mentorship programme.

Theatre credits include: Sunrise Madelines (Omnibus Theatre), Maryland (Royal Court), All The Happy Things (Theatre503, Omnibus Theatre), Selected Recordings Of Us (The Space), Essentially Black (Soho Theatre).

Television and film credits include: Breathtaking (ITV), Dreamland (Sky), Gateways Grind (BBC), The Sticksman Record (4Deuce Productions), Misnomer (Aella Jordan-Edge).

Voice credits include: Cold Case Crime Cuts (Podcast), Voices From Home (Brighton Fringe)

As a writer, recent work includes Still We Roar (Wembley Stadium), Unseen Unheard (Theatre Peckham), Pride (National Trust), All The Happy Things (Omnibus Theatre, Tony Craze Award 2020 Shortlist, Theatre 503), Sunrise Madelines (Omnibus Theatre, 37 Plays longlist), and Essentially Black (Soho Theatre, Camden Peoples Theatre, Camden Fringe). Her narrative podcast The Waters Of Lethe was shortlisted for NBC’s Overheard podcast competition and is currently in development after being awarded an Arts Council England DYCP. She has also written for Rikki Beadle-Blair’s anthologies for young actors, Lit and Fierce. Naomi’s aims as a writer are to bring the untold stories of Global Majority individuals to the forefront, and to approach difficult topics from a place of joy and love.

How did you get into theatre?

Honestly, I think it was because I was loud, had a lot of energy, and loved to read. My teachers knew I would probably remember what to do on stage so they used to give me parts in the class plays that had a lot of lines. I’ve always loved stories and and have loved the theatre for as long as I can remember, and I sort of knew that theatre and the arts would end up being the path I’d go down – one way or another. I did Saturday classes when I was at school and had my heart set on going to drama school, but when it came down to making the decision, I got the whole: “We’re not going to tell you what to do, but we really feel that you should get an academic degree behind you…” speech from my parents. So, I went to Durham University for four years and studied Anthropology, after which I promptly went to drama school.

What came first for you – acting or writing? And what’s it like being both?

Acting, for sure. My mum would probably say I was a writer before I was an actor – she dug out some of my childhood stories I wrote the other day (five-year-old me wrote a retelling of the Titanic, in which they both survived, apparently). But career wise, I always wanted to be an actor, and writing wasn’t something I planned to do. I began to write plays because I was frustrated at the lack of diversity in the scripts I was being given – I wasn’t seeing myself and the people around me reflected in the plays that I was reading and watching, so I thought I’d give writing a go – so far it’s going pretty well!

Being both an actor and a writer is wonderful. I love doing both because they inform and feed off of each other – I’m a better actor because I’m a writer, and I’m a better writer because I’m an actor. I want to write scripts that actors are excited to work on and I love working on scripts that make me excited. It’s also super useful when one is quieter than the other – like with the recent strikes, for example – it was so useful having another creative stream to pour my energy into. It can be challenging purely from a scheduling point of view, but I’m really grateful to be able to do both.

What is the most challenging thing about being a creative freelancer and do you have any top-tips on how you deal with this?

Ooft. Definitely the uncertainty. It’s kind of a double-edged sword being a freelancer, isn’t it, because it’s the best job in the world and I love the freedom and variation that it affords me, but because of that freedom and variation, it’s always a liiiitle dicey as to where the next paycheck is coming from. You have to be so resilient and it can be super challenging, but whenever things get hard I always try and think of my younger self, of little five-year-old Nay writing her own version of Titanic and dreaming of being on the stage, and I ask myself if she’d be proud of me. And if the answer is yes, we buckle down, and we figure out our next step.

I also think for me, it’s really important to have something creative to do that I do just because I love it. Creativity is the way that most people relax and free themselves, it’s most people’s down time, and we do it for a job – so sometimes that freedom and relaxation element is lost. So, for me, my other creative outlet is crafts – I love making cards, doing embroidery, painting – and I’m not amazing at it by any means but it’s so nice to do something creative that’s just for me, and that I can just do because I want to.

Who were your creative inspirations growing up?

From a really young age, music – soundtracks especially – was something that I was obsessed with. My dad has always loved classical music and we had (and still do have) a tradition where we sit and listen to music together for hours. One thing I love about the music of soundtracks is the way that they tell a story without a single word. Howard Shore (Lord Of The Rings), James Horner (Titanic), Hans Zimmer (Lion King, Pirates Of The Caribbean) – they were all people whose work did, and still does, inspire me greatly. When I’m approaching a new character or writing something new, I always use music as a starting point.

First memory of going to the theatre?

When I was really young, I did ballet classes. Professional ballet companies would tour around the country and would usually come to theatres near us, and my ballet teacher would get a group of tickets for us all. I’m pretty sure it was Swan Lake, and I remember being absolutely mesmerised and leaving the theatre announcing that I too, was going to be a ballerina and wear a tutu. I’m 90% sure I wanted to do it just because I wanted to have all the sparkly costumes. I’m definitely not cut out to be a ballet dancer.

What was the last play you saw?

FLIP by Racheal Ofori at Soho Theatre. I love new writing and Soho is a great venue for it, it was great!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you do?

Oh my god, so many things. Have a tribe of people who can both lift you up when you need it, and bring you down to earth when you don’t – both equally important. Be prepared to put in the work when people see it and when they don’t. Know your worth and don’t let people take advantage of the fact that you just want to work in the industry that you love. And most importantly, literally my number one rule in life – don’t be a dick. This is a blooming hard industry and kindness is always better!

What’s coming up for Naomi Denny in 2024?

My TV debut! Last year, around the time that my show Unseen, Unheard went up at Theatre Peckham, I was cast in the ITV drama Breathtaking which aired Feb 19,20 & 21, a three-part drama about the Covid-19 pandemic through the eyes of NHS workers. It’s intense, hard hitting, and a story that needs to be told. I’m so proud to be a part of it and can’t wait to share it.

I also had a rehearsed reading of my show All The Happy Things at the Omnibus Theatre in January and some really cool things are coming regarding this show, so watch this space!