IN rehearsals for One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, Isaac Ssebandeke is living something of a double life.
He is balancing a burgeoning career as an actor with life as a student at the University of Sheffield embarking on his final year of a Management degree course.
“When I did The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui at the Lyric, Hammersmith, I got an agent and thought I would become a top actor,” he explains.
“But I was already planning on going to university and thought if I continue with the university experience I will gain more than I am losing. And I do believe if I hadn’t gone to uni I wouldn’t have been where I am now.”
That means a CV which includes parts in BBC2 teen horror series The Well, Holby City and Casualty and now a juicy role in a revival of a Seventies American comedy opening in Sheffield and then going on a UK tour.
One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show is the story of a middle-class black family in 1970s Philadelphia, whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of sassy Southern cousin, Beverley.
Ssebandeke plays Beverley’s cousin, Felix (a character who’s a forerunner of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Carlton), who wants to break out of his preppy boy image and find himself a woman.
It reunites the actor with Eclipse Theatre’s Artistic Director Dawn Walton who directed him in There’s Only One Wayne Matthews at the Crucible last year.
“I learned so much from Wayne Matthews, it was the first leading part I had ever had,” he says.
“Earlier this year I met up with Dawn again for lunch and thought it was just because we were both in Sheffield.
“She talked about this American play she was putting on but I had no idea I was being tested for it. As I was enjoying my noodles little did I know she had plans.”
The boy from Battersea in London understands his character from Phillie. “Felix is preppy and hates it,” he says. “The family are middle class and he tries to get away from that. He feels that’s not how real black people are, they should be down in the ghetto listening to music. And he meets a girl who exposes him to a different life.
“So he’s got self-identity issues. I am 21 so I am a couple of years older than Felix but I remember feeling a similar thing when I was in the sixth form at school.”
Although he would be mad to swap it, Ssebandeke does regret sometimes missing out on the real student experience. “I remember at the start of the second year when Fresher’s Week was happening I was down in Bristol filming Casualty and thinking I was missing out. I know my room-mates were wondering where I was.”
But surely they are pretty impressed? “I remember when the script for Casualty arrived it was sent to a shared student house and they had opened it. They seemed more impressed than me at that but not everyone cares what I do. I think it’s fun to have a mixture of the creative and the academic. I find that really interesting.”
One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show is at the Crucible Studio Theatre from September 10-24.