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‘Sea Creatures’ at Hampstead Theatre – actor Thusitha Jayasundera on the play’s delicacy of emotions that accrete in powerful new work

‘Sea Creatures’ at Hampstead Theatre – actor Thusitha Jayasundera on the play’s delicacy of emotions that accrete in powerful new work

New writing should be supported by the industry, argues actor in a new play which gives ‘slow’ theatre a good name …

By Suman Bhuchar

THE BEST way you can support Hampstead Theatre – is to see a play there, stated actor, Thusitha Jayasundera, who is currently appearing in the world premiere of ‘Sea Creatures’ by writer, Cordelia Lynn.

The theatre has received a hundred per cent cut in its funding by the Arts Council; however it is forging ahead with all the new work planned for its smaller space, Hampstead Downstairs.

“There is no logic to that decision, but we must all become proactive to go to the theatre. It’s really baffling, isn’t it?” She posed to

Thusitha Jayasundera

The Arts Council has explained that it was simply acting on the instructions of the government – which wanted to see more money allocated to organisations outside London – though not all entities outside the capital benefitted and the arguments continue.

Sea Creatures’ is an ensemble piece by Lynn “an extraordinarily gifted playwright”, and is currently in preview and it enjoys its world premiere tomorrow (April 4).

“The play is about four women who are on holiday at a seaside cottage and are missing one member, who is the middle daughter Robin – and that daughter is lost to them.

“It’s basically about loss, sorrow and grieving and all of the vast, slowing unfolding feelings against the background of the sea where they live,” Jayasundera described.

“It’s a family centric drama that takes place during a short holiday. There’s veracity and tenderness, there are things that are funny and very painful and it’s very familiar to all of us.

“It very delicate but that does not flinch from extremely painful things. I think people will be taken by it”.

Jayasundera talked in such a thoughtful and moving way about the piece that you can feel the delicacy of the show.

Lynn is a musician – a librettist and that sort of sense of rhythm is very powerful – like there is an expanded sense of time, Jayasundera explained..

She is playing a character called Sarah. Race doesn’t play a big part in this story.

Sarah (Thusitha Jayasundera) in ‘Sea Creatures’ ©Marc Brenner

“It is just about a family unit who suffer loss,” said Jayasundera.

Sarah is part of a lesbian couple who are grappling with the loss, but she has inherited the absence, through her partner and inherited children.

“I don’t deny my own race and it’s not the place for it to be explored and I accept the circumstances as they are presented to me.”

The other cast members are Geraldine Alexander (Shirley), Pearl Chanda (George), Tom Mothersdale (Mark), Grace Saif (Toni), Tony Turner (Fred) and June Watson (Old Lady).

The show is directed by James MacDonald (who also helmed Vinay Patel’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’).

MacDonald once talked about the idea of ‘slow theatre’ for another show he worked on, but that could equally be applied here, as things take time to unravel, until the audience arrive at a delicate, seeping understanding.

Toni (Grace Saif) and Sarah (Jayasundera) in ‘Sea Creatures’ ©Marc Brenner

“It does capture a liminal sense of time, hopefully you will find yourself pulled in and mesmerised by it,” explained Jayasundera.

She is of Sri Lankan background and acting was something she did at school while there.

However, due to the upheavals, there was a great exodus of people out of the country because the prospect of further education was next to non-existent.

“I held off for a while. Then it got very grim and dark. Before leaving, my brother had applied to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), on my behalf because he knew I never would.”

She was accepted and enrolled in 1990.

Tom (Mark Mothersdale) and Sarah (Jayasundra) in Sea Creatures
©Marc Brenner

Jayasundera has worked across theatre, film and streaming platforms.

She was in the epic, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’, a prequel commissioned by Amazon, based on the vast resource of material, that is part of the late English writer JRR Tolkien’s estate (Tolkien 1892-1973).

These stories were developed using his footnotes and side ruminations in the text – and Amazon rather cleverly found a way of introducing more women and people of colour to be involved, because the original material is male and white, Jayasundera pointed out.

Amazon’s ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ was the most expensive television project on the planet in 2020, she explained.

Sea Creatures‘ publicity image

One estimate is that it cost about £650 million in total to make.

It was huge, amassing 25 million viewers and was critically much praised.

She was part of the cast for two and a half years and lived in New Zealand, where her husband and son joined her, so she was able to escape the worst of Lockdown in the UK.

“It was a real stroke of fortune, we were locked down – a version of it, as we had the lovely, (Prime Minister) Jacinta Arden who was dealing with these things in a very humane way.”

Jayasundera has also appeared in the ITV smash, ‘Broadchurch’, and the BBC’s iconic ‘Silent Witness’, as Dr Ayesha Masood.

She has also worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Young Vic and National Theatre and played Fatima in David Hare’s ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ at the National Theatre in 2015. It is set in a slum area of Mumbai and is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by American writer, Katherine Boo.

Jayasundera, herself, is a passionate advocate for new writing and argues that we need to actively engage, so that everyone in the industry comes and sees new work.

“I feel I should bang on about it a bit more, these playwrights are the voices of tomorrow. It’s gobsmacking really!”

Main picture: (Mark) Tom Mothersdale, Sarah (Thusitha Jayasundera), Toni (Saif Grace) & Shirley (Geraldine Alexander) ©Marc Brenner


‘Sea Creatures’ by Cordelia Lynn, 7.45pm and Thursdays matinee (2.45pm), from (March 24) – April 29, Hampstead Theatre (Downstairs), Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London, NW3 3EU
Tickets from £10 – £20
1 hour 50 min no interval.
More info/tickets:

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture