Liyah Summers – interview

Our Lady of Kibeho by Katori Hall
Interview by Christina McDougall

What would you do is The Virgin Mary visited you in a vision? Based on a true story, three schoolgirls each are visited by The Virgin Mary in visions. These visions were warnings of what would happen to Rwanda if the people of Rwanda don’t change their ways. Sadly, their warnings were ignored and Rwanda faced an horrific genocide 25 years ago.

Liyah Summers plays the Anathalie who is one of the schoolgirls that witnessed a life changing vision.

You play a young schoolgirl called Anathalie who witnesses a horrific future event through a vision, how do you think Anathalie handles this experience compared to the other two schoolgirls who also have similar visions?

Well, you’ll see in the play that after Anathalie has a vision she tends to pass out for a few days. The other girls seem to manage to carry on after a vision but Anathalie is out for the count! Anathalie is a very reflective, deep thinking girl and I think this demonstrates that. Whether it’s intentional or not, she always gives herself the time to process and think and reflect on what’s happening, whereas Alphonsine manages to power through and keep going and Marie Claire will respond with anger or defiance.

Faith is a big theme in this play, why was Anathalie so determined to convince those around her that there is goodness in the world?

Anathalie is the most devout of all the schoolgirls. She prays her rosary seven times a day! And although she isn’t a big fan of going to mass, her faith is very, very strong and I think that is what keeps her so optimistic and kind and forgiving. Anathalie always sees the goodness in people, which is why she manages to be best friends with Marie-Claire who is a very feisty and often aggressive young woman, and is why she bonds with Alphonsine, despite her questionable claims at the start of the play. Anathalie sees the goodness in her and in everything around her, and she wants everyone else to see that goodness so that they will keep the faith and change their ways.

The real Anathalie who is still alive and well today, still lives in Kibeho and still spends her days spreading the message that there is goodness in the world and that we must be part of that goodness.

The real Anathalie who is still alive and well today, still lives in Kibeho and still spends her days spreading the message that there is goodness in the world and that we must be part of that goodness.

Anathalie’s faith is tested after she witnesses what is in store for Rwanda, how would you convince Anathalie to keep faith if she sought advice from you?

The visons the girls see about the future of Rwanda are so horrific, I can’t even begin to imagine how terrifying that must’ve been for them. I’m not religious, but I share Anathalie’s optimism and belief that there is light in the darkest of places. I guess I’d encourage her to hold on to that light, to stay present and enjoy every moment she could, to keep praying her rosary because that has always brought her comfort and given her hope and reminded her that she’s not alone.  I’d tell her that at a time like this, where things are out of your control, faith is the thing that’ll fill you will hope and love and pull you through the hardest times.

What message would you like the audience to take away from this play?

I think I want audience members to leave with a more open mind. I want them to be inspired to listen and engage more with things that might not immediately make sense or ring true. But I think the biggest message I want the audience to take away from Our Lady of Kibeho is that it’s not too late to make a change. The girls gave out a warning and they begged for people to change their hearts and change the way they lived. Unfortunately, not enough people made that change and so their nightmarish visons became real life. We’re living in a world today where crazy things are happening everywhere, we turn, and we’ve had many different warnings about many different things. I want this play to remind us and encourage us that it’s not too late to change our hearts and change the way we live and start refilling the world with love and hope and kindness.

What drew you to audition for this play?

I was invited to audition for this play the first time it was on at The Royal & Derngate, but I was in another show at the time and it clashed and I remember being so bummed and seeing all the promo for it and being so jealous! When I saw it was coming back, I was like “YES A SECOND CHANCE YAAYY”!

I’ve learnt a new accent, tiny bits of a new language, learnt so much about a different country and its culture and its history and I’m so grateful for that because that is one of my favourite things about being an actor. How much you learn about so many different things.

I love this play and it drew me in for so many reasons. The beautiful music, the fact that it was so female heavy, the fact that it was this amazing true story that I never heard of in my life blew my mind and I was just desperate to be a part of telling that story. I was excited by all the challenges it would bring and all the new things it would expose me to! I’ve learnt a new accent, tiny bits of a new language, learnt so much about a different country and its culture and its history and I’m so grateful for that because that is one of my favourite things about being an actor. How much you learn about so many different things.

What has been your highlight whilst performing this play?

So many highlights!!! The cast are dreamy, I love each and every one of them and I’m so grateful I got to work with them all. I love Stratford East audiences. They’re definitely a highlight because they’re so vocal, it’s hilarious. Sometimes you’ll be onstage and just hear some yell “Yes Girl, you tell ‘em!” And its’s just so great to hear people’s live thoughts and reactions, I love that.

It probably sounds cheesy and ridiculous but it’s so genuine! I love this show and this company, it’s all been one long highlight.

Honestly, I can’t pin it down to one highlight, it’s all a highlight, it’s been the dreamiest experience. Nearly every night, there’s this point where me and Taz (who plays Alphonsine) are backstage and we just look at each other and say, “I love this show”. It probably sounds cheesy and ridiculous but it’s so genuine! I love this show and this company, it’s all been one long highlight.

If you could summarise the play in one word/ sentence what would it be and why?

Hope. To me it’s a play about hope. Hope for a better future, a better world and a better life. And I think the reason so much of the play is funny and full of joy is because there is so much hope in these young girls and in the teachers and priests and bishops. And even at the end of the play, although we as the audience know how things end, the characters are still holding on to hope.

NEED TO KNOW: Our Lady of Kibeho is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 2 Nov 2019 | See listing | BOOK TICKETS | Read our 4 star review