RSVP Nina Simone and Shamima Begum: a dinner party for our times

Playwright Tanika Gupta – Sarojini Naidu

Tanika Gupta. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

A poet and a fighter for Indian independence, Sarojini Naidu is always in the background of all the bloody pictures from the time, but you never really hear much about her. I’d like to meet her in the 1930s when she came over to London pushing for suffrage with Mahatma Gandhi.

It’d be fascinating to hear what she had to say about women around that time, given that she was operating in a completely male world. All we ever hear about is Gandhi, but without her, I don’t think his message would have gone as far. She was the more humorous and human side to him.

She was called the nightingale of India for her poetry and was the first female president of the Indian National Congress in 1925. She wasn’t going to be pushed around. She was imprisoned loads, but every time you see a photo of her she’s got a smile on her face. She got a lot of women marching and demonstrating, and her birthday is honoured in India as National Women’s Day. She’s extraordinary.
Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of Hobson’s Choice is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, 31 May to 6 July.

Actor Fiona Shaw – Eleonora Duse

Fiona Shaw.

Fiona Shaw. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Charlie Chaplin said Eleonora Duse was the greatest thing he had ever seen on the stage. She was born exactly 100 years before me, and [though] she performed in Italian, but those who saw her said you felt you understood every word. She must have been in touch with something eternal.

She was glamorous but didn’t seem to seek glamour. The demand for actors to be stylish was probably greater than the demands to be true, but Duse was obsessed with the truth and didn’t care about the rest of it. We’ve all packaged Sarah Bernhardt into a slightly over-overarching Victorian acting star, but I think Duse was a poet of the theatre. She’s the one that got away. She’s IT!

I don’t think she’s just a period piece. She absolutely could exist now and could cut through all the bullshit. I would love to learn from her and I suspect she would be great fun.
Fiona Shaw stars in Killing Eve on BBC iPlayer.

Producer Sonia Friedman – Lilian Baylis

Sonia Friedman.

Sonia Friedman. Photograph: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Lilian Baylis must have been formidable, a real force of nature, to run the Old Vic and create Sadler’s Wells in such a male-dominated environment – and, from all I’ve heard about her, to do it with so much humour and grace.

I would love to talk about how the world has changed. I’d ask: “Did you ever regret putting your work life before your personal life? Or is your life your work life?” I want to find out whether she kept going until she burned out, or whether there was a point where she wished she could have stepped back – because it’s something I’m grappling with. I’m figuring out how long I keep going at this pace. Did she feel she was running out of time? And did she have a sense of her legacy?
Sonia Friedman’s production of All About Eve is at the Noël Coward, London, until 11 May.

Lesley Manville, second from right, invites Sarah Lam, Deborah Findlay, Lesley Sharp and Anna Patrick to dinner in Top Girls in 1991.

Lesley Manville, second from right, invites Sarah Lam, Deborah Findlay, Lesley Sharp and Anna Patrick to dinner in Top Girls in 1991. Photograph: Alastair Muir/Rex Features

Designer Rae Smith – Shamima Begum

I don’t respect or admire Shamima Begum, but I am totally aghast at the situation she’s in. Whatever she’s done and whatever she’s been through, she still needs to be treated like a human being and fed properly. That’s why I’d invite her to my dinner table.

Rae Smith.

Rae Smith. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

The responsibility for care is a legal one. Stripping her of her citizenship and her human rights is just using her for political capital. She has become almost a mythological outcast, a non-citizen, but she’s not just a character in a play. She’s a real person in peril and she has a right to a fair trial.

Theresa May said citizenship is a privilege, not a right, but I think it is a right. Offering someone hospitality is a way of letting them rest and recuperate and eat with you – and it’s important she’s with people who aren’t attacking her. In this frenzy of race hate, our politicians need to be kinder. Compassion would give us an extraordinarily different narrative to the one we are getting at the moment. And we need to hear her story.
Rosmersholm, designed by Rae Smith, is at the Duke of York’s theatre, London, 24 April to 20 July.

Actor Noma Dumezweni – Nina Simone

Noma Dumezweni.

Noma Dumezweni.

Photograph: Dan Callister/Rex/Shutterstock

You start listening to the divine Miss Simone and think: “Oh God, you’re everything.” She was a gamut of emotion. Her range was so deep. You can feel it. She was one of those who was supposed to be alive for ever. I’d love to sit with the woman she was in her late 60s, though. I don’t want to meet young Nina – I want the one who’s seen it all.

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was her original name. Those who worked with her said you knew when you were talking to Eunice and when you were talking to Nina. So, imagining we’ve never met before but she very kindly said yes to coming, who would be arriving? She would figure out how comfortable she is, decide who she’s going to be. And I suppose the loveliest thing that could happen would be to find yourself in the room with Eunice.
Noma Dumezweni stars in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind on Netflix.

Top Girls is at the Lyttelton, London, from 26 March to 22 June.

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