Gloria Onitiri – Tea With Wilma

Gloria OnitiriTell me about yourself and some of your career highlights so far.

I actually grew up in Bedfordshire in a quaint, peaceful village that’s got a Lama farm. I’m a country girl at heart. Mum says I was singing before I could speak and have been play-acting for most of my life to date. If I hadn’t become a performer I was pushing to be a 400m sprinter. In my mind I think I still am! I’m probably most recently known for my stint as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard (along side and after the gorgeous Heather Headley) but I’ve been blessed to play many great roles across a few genres. Career highlights in theatre include: getting a phone call from Pippa Allion at my weekend post office job to invite me to understudy the role of Adult Nala in The Lion King at the age of 17. It was my first step into this business professionally and I have never looked back. It was even more thrilling to head back into the company in 2008 and take on the role full time. They truly are my family there and I am forever grateful for the opportunties they have given me. Learning to puppeteer as part of the original London cast of Avenue Q was a mean feat but one we survived! I would say acting and singing alongside the amazing Alan Cumming in John Tiffany’s version of The Bachaae was a dream – I can honestly say it is still one of the best shows I’ve been in. From start to finish it was electrifying Greek tragedy at its best! There are so many highlights and hopefully more to come…I could go on…but I wont!!


Tell me about the show you are doing and what attracted you to the role.

So, I’m currently playing the role of Ms Grimm in Jack and the Beanstalk at The Park Theatre. She’s evil, angry, a great inventor and determined to take over the world. But don’t be fooled, underneath her tough exterior she’s like a Victoria Sponge! I’ve only mentioned Grimm but let’s just say, that’s not my only role…. This is probably the silliest but most playful piece of theatre I’ve ever done! I love it! It’s not the traditional story to say the least and that was probably what attracted me to it the most. Plus the fact that our director Jez Bond and his co-writer Mark Cameron are the most bonkers boys I’ve met to date! This is the second instalment to the ‘Chronicles of Waa’. Waa is a magical world where many wonderful things happen and nothing is quite as it seems. I am desperate to tell you more but I don’t want to give any spoilers. You have to come and see it Wilma. I’m assuming with all that tea you drink you MUST have some Tupperware stored somewhere. Be sure to bring it with you. It’s a BIG DEAL in our little show!


Have you ever had any funny/disastrous on-stage experiences?

Wow! Okay here’s one…I did a show called Takeaway at Theatre Royal Stratford East a few years ago. We had a short dance interlude where the company shimmied across the front of the stage in sparkling blue dresses and dinner jackets singing ‘take me, take me’. In the scene just before this happened a cast member (not naming any names) had spilt coke on the stage floor. A message was sent round telling everyone to avoid that part of the stage…yes well…that memo got to everyone, except me!! So there I am, REALLY going for it and then wham, I slip at the back of the line and am lying there flat on my back. Lets not forget that I am 5ft 10 and was wearing a heel. Noticeable! I’m sure I got up as quickly as I went down but I have NEVER lived that down. Jason Pennycooke has video footage of that somewhere….to my dismay……!


Are there any other theatre roles that you would like to have a go at playing?

Gosh, there are so many. To name a few, in terms of theatre, I would love to play Cleopatra and/ or Cressida. Then there are great singing roles like Bess and Carmen. I’m actually classically trained so I would like to make use of that side of my voice one day. I’d totally love to see a show like Dream Girls happen here in the UK. We’ve totally got the talent to make a show like that fly! I’m sure you’d agree!


If you could be the opposite sex for a day, what theatre role would you like the play?

Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, yep.


What are your thoughts on theatre etiquette?

The world is a very different place to what it was only 5-10 years ago. People’s demands, wants, needs and expectations are forever evolving. In many ways I think it is important that we accept that and roll with the changes. It’s a difficult topic. This ‘etiquette’ we talk about is really a modern invention, isn’t it? If you think about the play houses of the 16th century they weren’t known for being polite places. People threw food at actors (thank the heavens no one has done that to me yet, although I’m sure its coming), audiences shouted out and in general were a part of the production. In my mind sometimes a raucous house can be quite exhilarating for you as an actor. It reminds you that this ‘thing’ you’re doing really is live. However, I don’t think we should ease up people’s willingness to respect others and their contributions. That is, respect for the artists and teams that get together to perform to audiences night after night and for other theatre goers who have spent an awful lot of money on theatre tickets.


What things annoy you when you are performing or when you are in the audience?

Mobile phones lighting up, being on, looked at or even answered during a performance. It’s distracting. Sleeping on the front row. Talking through the performance. Oh, people eating crisps. ‘Rustle, rustle’. I saw someone with a packed lunch once when I was doing Bodyguard. I had a show watch. I remember thinking, you might as well of brought a blanket and set yourself up a picnic spot in the aisle. ‘Scotch egg anyone?!’


Why do you think people should come and see your new show?

Its fun, its silly, its festive, it has a ridiculously talented company (Michael Cahill, Omar Ibrahim, Killian Macardle, Paige Round and myself) who are put through their paces in varying degrees of nonsense. It’s got some fab new tunes, a love story, plenty of heart and it’s definitely an alternative for those who are not necessarily looking for a traditional show to see this Christmas! So, come and join us! We’ll be at Park Theatre bringing you good tidings with LOTS of Tupperware!


Thanks for having Tea With Wilma

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Jack and the Beanstalk opens at the Park Theatre on Tuesday 2 December and runs until 4 January 2015.