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Suzann McLean- interview

Delving into the upbringing of Black boys, Sunny Side Up studies the concept of developing masculinity through the various life events of 'Lil D'. Autobiographically based on writer David Alade, the play shows the effect of his childhood environment and family, as he looks back at his younger self.

Directing the piece is Suzann McLean, who was keen to tell me more about the piece.


What is the play about, and why did you want to be involved with it?

Sunny Side Up is a remarkable play that blends poetry and spoken word with drama and humour. It’s a story of love, male identity, grief and the unshakeable bond between father and son. The play speaks to the role Theatre Peckham provides in our hyper-local community - a space and voice for young people to platform their own unique stories, to further social change and champion excellence.

There are many reasons why I personally wanted to be involved, top of my list is because it is

beautifully written and pushes the form of what theatre is - this is something I am always excited about. I also share the story of caring for my father through his journey with cancer, managing my acceptance of the loss of both of my parents and the urgency to celebrate the legacy that they left within me.

How does blending drama and poetry engage the audience?

There is an emotional power in poetry that engages us emotionally in the same way as music. It’s the same as the rhythm and connection to the heartbeat that we think of with Shakespeare, and when using the language and metaphors of today the words travel deeper into our imagination which in turn hits hard. These lines get me every time-

'Does he not know that the dream-team’s a player down now?

How is this body gonna function with no head?!

How d’you complete a sandwich with no bread?!

How’s Sade supposed to lay in that bed... alone with no hope of you

coming back.'

There is also this melodic refrain that is repeated at various pivotal moments during the play, “Remember everything you’re about to see happened to me. Not David Alade, let’s call him Lil D.” It reverberates in the audience’s mind throughout and acts as a reminder that this is not a piece of fiction but rather a true-life story that’s honest and real.

Why is it important to show the real-life representation of the upbringing of Black


It is sad to say, that still today, Black boys are seen as responsible for their actions at an age when other boys benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent. Still today, there are stereotypes that misrepresent Black fathers and father-son relationships within the Black community. There are so many assumptions that society takes as the norm that simply do not consider the wider picture, the more we can see real-life representation the better the understanding can be… well that’s the hope!

What do you anticipate audiences taking away from the production?

Audiences will reflect on their own upbringing and the life events and environment that shaped who they are today. As they look through the lens of the play, they will see into the trials, tribulations and celebrations within their own lives. This is what I love most about this play; yes it’s a snapshot of David Alade’s life but it cleverly drives audiences back to reflect inwardly. It’s the power of theatre at its greatest.

What are the most rewarding and challenging elements of directing a show? 

Directing theatre is collaborative and bringing together a whole bunch of creative minds is always fulfilling. For sure it starts with the text and the actor, however I am equally driven by the technical aspects in particular the sound and lighting. For me, they are part of the storytelling so I worked closely with Sound Designer (Rasaq Kukoyi) and Lighting Designer (Tim Speechley) to embody the world of the play. The most challenging element is budget! As a small arts charity our ambition and skill is not matched by cash so compromise is a major factor in every choice that is made.

How does this compare to your other industry roles, including acting?

When I am acting, I feel that I am another collaborator in the room to serve the vision of the director/writer. As CEO/Artistic Director of Theatre Peckham, I have a responsibility to house productions that reflect the mission and vision of the organisation. With Sunny Side Up, I feel very aligned with the various other facets of my creative live.

With all your experience in the arts, what are you most proud of in your career, and where would you like to take things next?

I am proud of so many things. I would say that my life’s work has been as an enabler for young people to experience and succeed in the creative industry, so perhaps this is what I am most proud of. I have an endless list of actors and creatives that I have trained, coached, directed and mentored who have phenomenal careers and continue to acknowledge the role that I played within their journey. Winning the Black British Business Awards as Senior Leader for Arts and Media was an honour and a wonderful recognition of the impact that I have had on others. Where next…? A bigger platform so that greater impact can be made.


Many thanks to Suzann for giving us an insight into her latest work, and multifaceted career in the arts industry. I look forward to hearing about your future work too!

Tickets to Sunny Side Up here:


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