Image: Philippa Cole is playing the character of Mim in a filmed scene for Siege. She is wearing an orange costume wig and a PVC dress and there is a second image of her off to the side viewed through a phone camera on a tripod.
Philippa Cole recently played the part of Mim in Siege, so we caught up with her about lockdown, how she approached the role of Mim, and the inclusion and representation of disabled people in our culture.
Siege is an ARC Stockton Homemakers commission in partnership with Home Manchester, written and directed by Vici Wreford-Sinnot. You can see Siege here.
Q: Lockdown has been a really challenging time for all of us, and has come with its own set of challenges for artists. How have you been managing with everything that’s going on?
A: I, like so many artists, have had work cancelled which has been devastating and hard to cope with. However, I have been lucky that a lot of the work has moved online via Zoom, so we can still explore and create just in a very different space.
Other work has cropped up too, Siege of course - working with Vici again has been amazing, a monologue series for Graeae and a radio play. I have been extremely lucky in that sense, it has given me a structure, routine and drive to keep working and to look at what I want to create to have my voice out there.
On a personal level, I have had more time and space to reflect on life and to rest, beautiful, extraordinary rest, which can so easily get forgotten especially when you’re freelance. I’ve done A LOT of reading and caught up on TV shows and other artists work that I didn’t have time to watch before lockdown.
Q: What attracted you to working on Siege?
A: Well first of all there is Vici. Her strong, political, breaking glass ceilings work is always a pleasure to watch and be part of. We’ve worked together on Another England which we took on tour last year and I learnt a lot from the piece, the character of Rat and my own creative process as an actor both in the work and applying that to different venues.
But for me it was the honesty of Siege that attracted me to the character of Mim. She is breaking the mould of what a disabled women should 'act and look' like. She is sexy, powerful and fearless, three words which often don’t get associated with disabled women. She makes bold choices in her life and her 'out there' attitude scared me, in an exciting way. And if it scares me, I have to do it.
Q: For anyone who is yet to see it, can you say a little bit about what Siege is?
A: It's 15 minutes of pure raw, honesty about what it is like to be 'looked at' as a disabled female. It’s funny and radical, truthfully highlighting a woman's struggle in a world that sees you as one version of 'disabled'. Mim cracks it open. Why can’t Mim get a gig? She’s a performer, she’s different so surely that makes for an interested audience? Or does it? There is also a tender vulnerability to the piece which so many will be able to relate to.
Q: What do you hope people will feel while watching Siege, or take away from it?
A: I hope people will think it’s relatable, determined and hopeful. That people will feel they can express themselves however they want to. Yes society may see you as one thing, but we know the true story of ourselves and it deserves to be out there running free.
Q: As part of making Siege, Vici worked with some brilliant disabled female artists on The Wrong Woman Discussions. Did you watch The Wrong Woman Discussions as part of your preparation for the role of Mim? And if so, how did they influence the way you approached it?
A: I hadn’t watched them before filming. We had very little time beforehand as I was working on other projects. I sat down and watched them all back to back afterwards and absolutely loved them. Sometimes you can feel quite alone as a Disabled artist and very rarely can we get a group of disabled women together and just chat about our work and how we are perceived in the world. I felt like I was part of the discussion whilst watching them, and related to so much that was said.
I am also glad I didn’t watch them before approaching Mim. I wanted to discover the truth of Mim, find what makes her tick. I of course can draw on my own experiences as a disabled woman both in life and art. Sometimes when preparing for a role, I can overload the prep and I am really glad I didn’t with Mim. Vici and I had some really rich discussions.
Q: It’s fair to say that as well as being really enjoyable Siege explores some serious issues around the representation and inclusion of disabled people in our culture. If people want to educate themselves a bit more or support campaigns to support disabled rights and representation where should they start?
A: We Shall Not Be Removed is a new disability arts alliance movement. It was set up in response to the crisis in the arts due to the pandemic to advocate, to campaign and support D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled creative practitioners and organisations through and after Covid19 and have so far run a couple of big campaigns.
The aims of the alliance are:
- To ensure a sustainable future for disability and inclusive arts in the UK through and after the pandemic
- To amplify the voices of D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled creative practitioners & disability arts organisations at a time of crisis for the arts and for disabled people
- It is free and open to all individual D/deaf, neurodiverse and disabled creative practitioners and organisations, operating in UK arts, museums and film.
You can find out more on their website weshallnotberemoved.com
Disability Arts Online is an organisation led by Disabled people and set up to advance disability arts and culture.
Also check out Disability News Service for a wider variety of news topics relating to disability.
You can support Vici’s theatre company Little Cog specialising in the production of disabled theatre, art and training.
Q: What was the experience of making a short film in lockdown like?
A: Really fun actually. I’m used to doing a lot of actor self-tapes at home, and it’s amazing the camera quality on smartphones today. We had to think on our feet, for example, what could we use for a spotlight and disco light? Luckily my husband is an electrician so we always have multiple lights and gadgets around the house which came in handy for this. He helped film it all, which both Vici and I were SO grateful for, because shooting and acting in the film would have been stressful. He took the pressure off us. She could direct, he set up the shots and I performed.
Q: And for anybody reading this who hasn't seen Siege yet, how can they watch it?
A: Siege is available via the Home website. The Wrong Woman Discussions are available for free, and Siege can be accessed via the booking link, and is available on a Pay Way You Can basis. Once you’ve booked, Home will send you a link to the video where you can watch it an unlimited number of times until 31 December. The film can be accessed with captions and BSL interpretation.