top of page
  • Writer's pictureAbout Grace

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

If you were wise enough to quench your cinema thirst last month with Ben Sharrock's long awaited release of BAFTA nominated Limbo, you may well recognise Leicester born Vikash Bhai for his beautifully poignant and utterly lovable portrayal of Farhad - a refugee from Afghanistan living on a remote (and at times comically hostile) Scottish Island awaiting his right to remain.

There’s a kind of humble poise, unknowing wit and magnetism to his character that I was totally unprepared for. It’s a performance that felt so refreshingly new and I also, rather curiously, had some serious Farhad wardrobe envy; namely his cast-off sneakers, retro knitwear and 90's jeans. (That's really just a side note).

Limbo is a very special film that will take up space in my mind for years to come. So will Farhad. If you haven’t already seen the film by the way you can catch it on Mubi.

In the meantime, let’s meet Vikash - the rising star who, for the record, like me, likes a good natter.

Photo by Michael Shelford

Tell us about your journey to becoming an actor? Was that always the masterplan?

'It started from about the age of 4, I think. Year 1, Mrs Nevitt's class. I was 'understudying' the role of Father in a story called 'The Enormous Turnip'. It's the night of the show, (10am early years assembly), the lights go up, we're one minute into the first act (only act) and the actor playing Father gets stage fright. Mrs Nevitt looks down the row of children sat on the floor, legs crossed, faces aghast, whispering he's forgotten his line, and she gestures for me to get up. This was it - my moment in the spotlight, my time to shine! So I say the one line I have, wait for the others to say their one line and take that oh so very proud bow! It was glorious! So, yeah. I'd say it was almost certainly the masterplan! Even if I didn't quite know it was until many years later.'

Photos courtesy of Limbo

What is the most cherished / and most challenging part of what you do?

'I suppose the great thing I find about what I do, is that there's always a new discovery to be made. Whether that be about one's self, about the craft, about the business or about people places and things - venturing into the unknown and as yet undiscovered - maybe that's it...

The most challenging part without question is managing those inner demons; the self doubt, the anxiety - working hard to correct course when being led astray by those inner demons. The classic impostor syndrome. Truth is, I think many creatives can feel like impostors so there's some solace in knowing that the anxiety can sometimes just be part of a creative process. Doesn't have to be of course. It's the unknown. It's exciting but can also be scary.'

For people who haven't seen LIMBO, what is the film about?

'Limbo is a wry and poignant observation of the refugee experience set on a fictional remote Scottish island where a group of new arrivals await the results of their asylum claims. It centres on Omar (Amir El-Masry), a young Syrian musician who is burdened by his grandfather's oud (the king of Arabic musical instruments) which he has carried all the way from his homeland.'

What was your process to finding the 'centre' of your character in the film?

'In short, the text. So much of Farhad is on the page. Initially, I used that to make choices about him and the world he has inhabited and is now inhabiting... and Ivana Chubbuck's,

'The Power of the Actor' is always an invaluable tool for me.'

Your character Farhad is a Freddie Mercury superfan... What are you a superfan of?

'Critical Role - a bunch of voice actors online playing Dungeons and Dragons. Once I've sat around the table and played D&D with them, I'm done!'

Photo courtesy of Limbo

What is the biggest challenge you've had to face?

'In both life and work, managing my mental health. Taking time to reflect and unravel what's at the heart of the discomfort or unease. For a long time I've maintained that I can do this on my own, partly because I have been able to, but also because I haven't had the courage to seek out help.

More recently though I've realised that there's much to be gained from asking for help from a professional - to help navigate the inner workings of the mind with the guidance of someone who has a better understanding of how or why we react to things in our lives in the different ways that we do. It's another unknown space that I'm only now beginning to venture into.'

What's your secret talent and worst habit?

'Well I'm not sure if you can call this a talent as such but I'm in Sri Lanka right now and last night there was a pretty wild storm. It woke up most of the hotel residents. I slept right through it without a clue. When I'm out for the count... I'm out!

Worst habit is, for sure, midnight snacking. I could have had five courses not two hours before, but come midnight I find myself opening the fridge looking for a snack.'

What makes you laugh?

'My wife. We goof around a lot. Most of the daft stuff we do no one else would find funny.'

What makes you angry?


Photo by Michael Shelford

What scares you?

'Rats. Ah man rats just creep me out.'

You're stranded on a remote Scottish Island (with DVD player in tow. Naturally.)

You can take with you just one movie, one book and an endless supply of.... ?

'The Big Lebowski', 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and an endless supply of coffee.'

What do you regard as your biggest achievement?

'Being able to continue to work as an actor. For as long as I am allowed to do it, it will remain my biggest achievement. Or maybe it's remembering to take the bins out. I think that would have to be up there. A close second.'

Photo by Michael Shelford

What would be your 3 nuggets of advice to young emerging actors?

'I don't have much by way of experience to know what would be good advice. I'm still figuring it out myself. But here goes...

Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen - listen to it at least once every couple of years - probably some of the best advice there for an actor.

Get involved with other things that fulfil you creatively. It'll soften the blows from when it doesn't go your way and on that point, don't worry so much if it doesn't go your way. Just do the work, prepare and persevere. You don't know whose watching or who has seen your stuff. Eventually doors will begin to open.

Listen. Really listen. Not just in a scene, but in the day to day activities and interactions.'

What are you most grateful for today?

'All the people in my life... and my cat.'

What lies ahead this year?

'Work wise I've just wrapped on Season 4 of The Good Karma Hospital and although I can't say much about the project itself, I do have something else coming up soon which I'm very excited to be working on. Cool script, great cast and an amazing director.

Aside from that, once I get home and out of the 10 day quarantine, I'll be getting back to bouldering (and maybe playing some Dungeons and Dragons!)'

Watch the trailer for Limbo HERE

(Interview by Charlotte Gascoyne)

  • Writer's pictureAbout Grace

Polly Bennett. You might have heard her name being lauded by a certain Oscar winning Rami Malek. You’ve most likely seen some of her work played out at the Donmar, The National, The RSC and most recently, that little Netflix series, The Crown. The list goes on (and I’m trying to keep the word count down). Polly is one dazzlingly talented, top notch, supersonic movement director, choreographer and theatre practitioner. Everything she works on turns to gold. Quite literally. She has a remarkable Catherine wheel energy, an infectious (and reliable) wit and an unwavering focus that makes her that very person that everyone wants to work with.

This week we were gifted the opportunity to chat to her about work, life and and everything in between.

Photo by Helen Murray

Tell us about your journey to becoming a movement director? Was that always the masterplan?

'I never planned it - I didn’t really know it was a job until I was about 23 - but now more than ever I realise that everything I have done in my life has led to me becoming a movement director. My Dad was a trumpet player, so I sat in a lot of rehearsals as a child and I am told I was pretty discerning about the quality of dancers, the staging and vibe of the room. I danced and acted from a young age, was obsessed with MGM musicals and put on plays in the playground so when I became a member of the National Youth Theatre at 15 years old, I naturally became the person who led physical warm ups and started offering staging ideas to the directors. Understanding that I wasn’t made for acting I went to Edinburgh University where I directed fashion shows, choreographed musicals and just sort of “ended up” helping other students with their confidence when they had to make presentations. I studied paintings and sculptures in my History of Art degree so really analysing compositions and learning to analyse emotive bodies, as much as my parents might not think it, was a huge part of my theatrical development.

After I graduated I began working for a television production company that made adverts, I taught wedding dances and as a side hustle, I started running a non-for-profit actor training company, The Mono Box. This fusion of experiences and jobs – being on set, observing directors and working with amateur movers whilst also developing a company to empower and develop emerging actors, meant that I ended up being more valuable on the set of adverts helping the performers rather than dealing with the budgets and spreadsheets. Very naturally I swerved back into theatre-making. I love where I am at now, going between film and television, theatre and community work. It makes for a very eclectic work life!'

Are you able to tell us what you're working on at the moment?

'I am sitting at the airport waiting to fly back to UK after being Movement Coach and Choreographer on Baz Luhrmann's new Elvis Presley biopic which has been shooting in Australia. It’s been movement Everest. I feel a bit shell-shocked and not totally sure it actually happened.'

What is your favourite part of the process?

'I get to help people discover moving and understand what their body can do emotionally. I love the moment when I see actors, or anyone, I work with change in front of you from a physical stimulus I’ve given. I enjoy the unloading that happens in a physical room. Another bonus is wearing elasticated clothing all the time.'

What has been the most surreal moment of your career?

'Going to the Oscars was pretty mad as it turns out it’s not just a pretend thing on the telly. I’d worked with Rami Malek on Bohemian Rhapsody and he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal as Freddie Mercury so the natural progression of a mad night was ending up at Madonna's house where at one point we were all given slippers to wear so we didn't damage her floors. I danced with Lady Gaga's Dad, talked about pole-dancing with J-Lo and had a cheeseburger on the way home holding an Oscar and still wearing the slippers.'

Polly Bennett and Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (Photo by Alex Bailey/Fox)

What is the biggest challenge you've had to face?

'Because it’s a relatively new role, sometimes it feels like I have to explain what I need to do my job, or I have to fight to be treated similarly to other creative people on the team. Movement directors seldom are included in the royalty pool for shows for example; there are no awards or accolades for us and sometimes we aren’t even credited for our work. I guess because it’s not always immediately clear what a movement directors role has been on a project because the work is so expansive and not always an obvious song and dance (although it sometimes is that too!) it can be hard for people to understand to give space and credit to. The actors find huge value in the work, so I find the daily hurdles of getting what I need to do my job quite frustrating but hope that changes as the job comes more into focus – through interviews like this!'

Rehearsing Maydays, RSC (Photo by Richard Lakos)

Your best quality and worst habit?

'Empathy and empathy.'

What makes you laugh?

'My friends are my own personal comedy troupe. My friend Danny doing air guitar complete with pedals and Becks lip-syncing perfectly to the whole of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” by Celine Dion will always make me laugh.'

What scares you?

'Planet of the Apes in every single way.'

You are hosting a hall of fame dinner party with 3 invited guests. Who's on the list?

'Stevie Nicks, Tina Turner, Vivienne Westwood and I'd let Liza Minnelli have my seat.'

What would you write on a post-it note to your younger-self?

'Say how you’re feeling.'

What is the most inspiring thing you've seen, read or listened to recently?

'I find myself compelled to the sea so I just finished reading RisingTideFallingStar by Philip Hoare and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s hard to put into words but I guess it’s about human and animal relationships with the sea. He talks about people - famous, infamous, performers and heroes - enchanted or driven to despair by the water and links them altogether. I found his accounts of being in nature and linking other people to his experience incredibly moving. I am looking at life a little differently now.'

Peter Gynt, National Theatre (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

What would be the opening and closing track on a Polly Bennett mix tape?

'I have about 500 playlists which start with Sweet Disposition by Temper Trap so I guess that solves that one. Yesterday I'd have closed with Take Me Home by Phil Collins but today I choose Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac. And Forever More by Moloko would be somewhere in the middle.'

What would be your top 3 nuggets of advice to young emerging performers?

'Be curious – don’t expect people to give you the answers. If you look for stories around you rather than trying to do it all the right way, more possibilities will reveal themselves.

Passion isn’t limitless – you find your passion for your work through working with other people not delivering a finished product.

Put a song on every morning and dance to it without distraction. No phones, no brushing your teeth, no boiling the kettle. Release yourself from presentation, move for the sake of moving and get ugly. It will make your day infinitely better.'

White Teeth, Kiln Theatre (Photo by Mark Douet)

What lies ahead for you this year?

'Work wise, I'm back coaching the new recruits in The Crown Series 5, which I love. I find it so interesting working out how the Royal Family's bodies and behaviours change over the years and how in turn I get to explore that with new actors. I am also choreographing Season 2 of The Great and exploring Covid rehearsal room practices at RSC. There are some other new filming possibilities in the pipeline although life-wise I am keen to spend some time at home after being in a hotel on the other side of the world for a year. But I’m always moving so who knows…'

Production still from The Crown, Netflix

Introduction and interview by Charlotte Gascoyne

This month we had the pleasure of catching up with the wonderfully magnetic Joanna Adeyinka-Burford – Hampshire-born TV presenter, actor, author and mother of two. If you have little ones, you might recognise her from Cbeebies. She’s one of their treasured regulars. Zooming from her hotel room in Media City we chatted life, career, family (and cheese-eating.) The hardest part of the interview was transcribing around the laughter. Joanna seems to do a lot of that.

Tell us about your journey into performing and presenting.

I went to a performing arts school as a dancer but there was always this thing at the back of my mind… I would love to be a TV presenter. My mum suggested journalism to me, to which a 15 year old who knew nothing, just went, NO! I think I’ll just go to dance school instead. I should have perhaps listened to my mum. Always listen to your Mum right?! After dance school I came out as an actor. I spent about 8 years auditioning and then there was still that niggle... At the time I was with an acting agent and he just sort of looked at me and said, ‘Yeah. No. You’re too old.’ He was a lovely guy but I just thought, well this isn’t really going to work and so I went out on my own and just started to push loads of doors. I saw an advert for a competition to go to Australia and do a show backstage at Home & Away and I thought, well there’s an opportunity! I was at my friend’s house. We filmed this little audition. She pretended to be Marilyn. I ended up getting the job! I then put together another showreel, sent it off to people at CBBC, ended up going in and doing a screen test, nothing coming of it. Somebody contacted me about a pilot for Cbeebies. Again, didn’t get it. And then, two babies later I got invited to another audition. I’ve got this baby hanging off me, and I said, SURE! My sister came with me as I was still breast feeding and I got it! Off the back of that I’ve worked on and off for Cbeebies ever since. And it reminds me; don’t take no for an answer. If you want something - go and get it!

What do you love most about what you do?

I love what I do. I love being able to bring to life other people’s words; bringing those words off the page and making them accessible for everyone. I love being able to do that.

What is the last big challenge you’ve had to face?

Losing a really close friend. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve had to walk through.

And understanding just how to navigate grief because I think until you experience something like that, you just don’t know and you just don’t get it. You learn a lot as you walk through really tough things.

What was your first ever job?

I remember working in a car factory when I was 16 and basically, we had to package up car parts. It was the most mind-numbingly boring job which is maybe why, when I worked out what I wanted to do, I was like, no! I can’t go back to the car factory!

In another life, what would you be?

I wanted to be a pilot but I think I’m gonna go next step and say astronaut and just go to space! I wouldn’t want to stay there for months on end but I would just love to be able to go for a day trip. Or a heart surgeon. I don’t know.

Who inspires you?

My sister. She’s really driven. She’s superwoman. It’s almost like she’s got some kind of magic - the opposite of what kryptonite would be. Good kryptonite. She’s so visionary and there are no obstacles that will stop her. I love that sense of, go get it. I think we should all have a little bit of that in us.

What was your favourite TV programme growing up?

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Who would you invite to a hall of fame dinner party for 3?

Number One. Will Smith. Of course he’s coming. Michelle Obama. I think she’s gonna come too. And the Queen. The Queen is gonna have one-on-one granny chats with us all. She’s the guest of honour. I think we’d get on. My middle name’s Elizabeth as well so I figure we’ve got some things in common.

What scares you?

Not fulfilling my potential. Not just in terms of career but in terms of life. Whether that’s being there for friends or developing strong relationships with my children. Not living up to what I’m supposed to do - that scares me. I don’t mind what stage of life I die at but I want to know that when I die, I did as much as I could. It’s a driving force.

How do you deal with nerves and pressure?

I like nerves. The adrenaline gets me right on top of my game.

What is your worst habit?

Ok. Don’t judge me. When I’m cooking - cutting slices off the cheese and eating it.

The other day I bought some Port Salut. I’m making lunch for everybody and I’ve got the Port Salut (by the way no-one else is having Port Salut) and I’m literally just cutting chunks off and eating it. There’s none left for anyone else. That’s definitely my worst habit.

What makes you angry?

I don’t get angry very often.

Injustice. Kids being treating badly.

If I’m watching a movie (it’s not even real but it sparks something inside me obviously) when I see somebody cheat on their partner, it just boils my blood. It’s just wrong.

What makes you laugh?

People who wear sunglasses indoors.

What would you write on a post-it note to your younger self?

Go for it. Ignore the boys and know that you’re worth it. Blinkers on Joanna. Just keep going. Go for your goals. Know that you’re awesome. Don’t give up. Dream big. Push doors.

What is your proudest moment?

Seeing my kids every day being the incredible little human beings that they are.

What would be your advice to a young person wanting to get into TV broadcasting?

Work really hard. Don’t give up. Hone your craft. Go practice. Don’t just sit there and expect it to come to you. Learn. Take classes. Talk to people. Above all, be a nice person to work with. Because that makes a difference. It goes a long way, particularly in this industry.

At the same time, I would say upskill yourself in other areas. Be smart about it. Have something else that is going to be a good income stream to fund your dream. That’s something I never had. There are moments when I think it would be amazing if I was a qualified physiotherapist or something and I could use that to fund the things I love.

What lies ahead for you this year?

Career-wise, it’s really hard to foresee because being a freelancer I don’t even know what’s gonna be going on at the end of the next month! I’ve started to write some children’s books. I’d love to see them not just in the notes on my phone! I’d like to take some steps forward with those. For years now, I've wanted to help write and create content for children’s shows. Again, I’ve got ideas and I’d love to see some of those come off the page in some capacity.

I can’t wait to get out with my family and do things that I couldn’t do last year. Hopefully enjoy the world starting to come back to normal. Go to the beach.

Photography provided by Joanna Adeyinka-Burford

Interview by Charlotte Gascoyne for About Grace

bottom of page