"I'd say love, to be understood, forming meaningful relationships"
The promising theatrical starlet, Anya Jaya-Murphy, stars in the powerful and magnetic play Rice.
Written by award-winning Hmong-Australian writer, Michele Lee, Rice is a sharp and humorous narrative on gender, globalisation and friendship.
Anya Jaya-Murphy is from London and although her career is just starting, she is quickly impressing audiences.
The play follows Anya’s character, Nisha, a proficient high-flying executive working for Golden Fields, Australia’s largest producer of rice.
Determined to become the first female Indian CEO in Australia, Nisha is close to signing a deal worth billions.
This contract with the Indian government would see Golden Fields take over India’s national rice distribution system.
As the office nights get later, Nisha encounters Yvette, a Chinese immigrant who cleans the building. Played by Angela Yeoh, Yvette is a passionate and insightful individual.
Yvette has business ambitions of her own. However, legal proceedings against her daughter are halting her journey.
As their paths overlap, Nisha and Yvette form an unlikely but dynamic bond, manoeuvring through the complexities of their lives.
The fast-paced drama is an incredible production that puts two strong and dominant women at the forefront.
Anya Jaya-Murphy, playing Nisha and a multitude of other characters, already solidifies herself as a provocative talent within theatre.
Having trained at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the British actress holds a plethora of skill, flair and stage presence.
She has shone in successful productions such as Amsterdam (2020) and Provok’d (2019). So, Rice is no different.
Anya Jaya-Murphy encompasses all the themes and messages of the play. But her own unique qualities still ooze through each scene.
Directed by the fantastic Matthew Xia, the play is an artistic and vibrant catalyst that is reimagining the theatrical landscape.
With Anya Jaya-Murphy continuing her meteoric rise, DESIblitz spoke with the actress about her journey so far and Rice.
What inspired you to follow a career path into acting?
My name is Anya Jaya-Murphy and I’ve always performed from a young age. I loved being in plays and musicals at school. My weekends were mostly taken up with games and rehearsals for plays I was doing.
At school, the theatre became my second home. My friends and I had the best time. I remember it always being a place of laughter, enjoyment and relief.
Then when I was around 16, it was my drama teachers who suggested that I consider applying to drama school.
I remember that same year, it was my second to last year of high school, I went to watch A View From The Bridge at the Wyndham Theatre.
I remember watching Mark Strong, who was playing Eddie Carbone, the protagonist, and just watching him on stage, I felt so alive. His performance was electric.
That was the moment when I thought I have to go for this. Then, I applied to RADA for their one year course as I wanted to dip my toes in first before applying for full 3-year training.
So I went there from 2016 to 2017 and loved it. Once I caught the bug, I then decided to apply for a full 3 year BA course at drama school. I went to train at Guildhall for 3 years and I graduated in 2020.
What acting idols have impacted you the most?
I would say along with Mark Strong, the other main person would be Helen McCrory. I remember watching her on-screen in particular and just seeing her presence and vivacity.
“She just had this spark in her eyes that I see in every role that she played.”
“It just defined her and I remember thinking ‘I can’t take my eyes off you, I just want to watch you’.”
I guess I wanted to absorb all of her spark and that’s why she was a really big influence in my life as well. Those would be the main two actors that I’d say.
Can you tell us about ‘Rice’ and your character, Nisha?
I play Nisha Gupta, who is a 28-year-old Indian executive officer at a rice company, Golden Fields.
Her goal in the play is to buy a majority share in the Indian public distribution system, which is the equivalent of food welfare.
Along the way, she’s really persistent and bumps into many obstacles that stop her from getting her goal. She starts from a place of tension right from the get-go.
She’s around a lot of people that are stopping her from achieving what she wants to get from herself and her career.
There’s also a huge element in the play where a lot of her motives are there because she wants to make her grandma better, who she calls Didi Ma.
Her Didi Ma has Alzheimer’s, she’s about to come to the end of her life. Nisha really wants to live up to what she perceives are her grandmothers’ hopes and dreams for her.
So there are so many universal themes in this play. Yvette who Angela Yeoh plays, she’s my co-actor in this.
They form a friendship and a bond that is quite unexpected because of their background and their society positions.
On paper, you’d think ‘oh they’re clearly not going to cross paths. I guess that is expected at the beginning of the play but as the play and more events unfold, you start to see them get closer and closer.
You start to see Nisha particularly look up to Yvette for advice and almost a motherly position in her life.
Perhaps to replace her grandmother or perhaps replace something that she feels she’s missing from her own family.
What themes in the play resonated with you the most?
There are such a multitude of themes that I related to. The first one being love, overall. I think every play there is always going to be an element of that because it is such a core human thing.
“I’d say love, to be understood, forming meaningful relationships with others and what it means to find your purpose in life.”
Also, what it means to connect with people that you wouldn’t have thought you would.
How life brings you in contact with people where you think ‘I don’t know how this has happened but it seems on paper like we’re from different backgrounds in life’.
Then you realise ‘but having spent time together and have had the chance to form meaningful communication with each other, we’re actually more similar than we think’.
“It’s a story that at its core, reminds us that we are more alike than we think.”
What was the creative process behind making Nisha your own?
So, I remember when I first read the script and the first word that came into my head was ‘athletic’. My character is constantly jumping from one obstacle to the next.
Literally travelling from place to place, from Australia to India, for example, without really getting a break.
So, in terms of my own creative process, which related to that, I, therefore, worked hard to keep myself fit mentally and vocally.
Movement was important to me in this process, really important. Being able to differentiate between characters and work from a practical, tangible place to tell that story.
For example, working with Laban’s efforts as a way in to explore each character that I play.
As well as the movement side of things, I worked on establishing the voice and accent of each character with our dialect coach, Catherine Weate.
She was really helpful when it came to picking up on the specificities of each sound.
Because I’m transitioning in and out of characters quickly, I made sure to have a phrase or two for each character that I can tap into before every show.
This helps when switching between each character. I would say as well there’s also a lot of complex corporate language in the play, a lot of which I wasn’t familiar with at the beginning of the process.
So, I had to do my own research quite thoroughly to know exactly what I was saying and the context in which the language is being used in the play.
How does ‘Rice’ differ from other projects you’ve been a part of?
Well, I’d say that this is the first time that I performed in a two-person play, which is such a gift.
I feel like I’m being stretched and challenged in so many different ways. Getting to exercise my craft and stay agile within the structure that we’ve been given.
The story is dense and it’s fast-paced and exhilarating and it’s constantly changing.
So, I feel really lucky to be in a play that offers a multitude of perspectives in terms of the amount of different characters that Angela and myself play within the same story.
“It’s not as if we have a cast of twelve that are playing each character. It’s almost more fun.”
I think the fact that we don’t have costume changes as well, it’s not as if we have props.
For example, when Angela transitions into my boyfriend, we have to just use our bodies, use our voices, and use our physicality. That was such a fun, fun thing to do.
Just getting to do that as an actor, I think it’s such a joy to be able to play parts that perhaps I wouldn’t normally get to play having graduated into this industry.
So, to get to do this so early on in my career, honestly, it just makes me smile every day. I kind of have to pinch myself and go, ‘oh, this is everything I could have asked for’.
Do you think theatre is driving towards more one/two-person plays?
I’m not sure, but what I do know is that the reason that Michele Lee wrote this play is that she wanted to see two women of colour get to play parts that they would not normally get to play.
So, that was a huge driving force for her to write this play and getting to do this with another woman from the global majority, it’s quite rare.
So, I don’t actually know the answer. The answer is honestly, I don’t know. But hopefully, there will be more new writers exploring this avenue.
Hopefully, we will get to see people stepping outside the box a little bit more and challenging stereotypes. Just because a person might be from a certain ethnicity doesn’t mean they just have to play X, Y, Z characters.
Clearly, that’s what Michele Lee is trying to challenge in this play.
How do you want audiences to feel after seeing ‘Rice’?
That’s a really good question. I’m not sure, I personally don’t think you can put a stamp on how audiences will feel after watching a show.
Everyone will bring their own opinions and resonate with different parts of the story, depending on their own life experience.
“However, what I will say is I would like the play to serve as a reminder to cherish those around you.”
Cherise those that have your best interests at heart and will support you through the peaks and troughs of life.
What challenges have you had to overcome in your career so far?
Well, number one, without a doubt is graduating at the height of the pandemic. I graduated in 2020 during the first lockdown where everything was still really up in the air.
So, my year was still able to graduate, but we missed out on a lot of opportunities that could have helped us start our careers in the industry.
I left my third-year early to work on a play, which also toured the UK called Amsterdam and was also directed by Matthew Xia.
So, we were able to complete our run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth back in March 2020. Then obviously due to Covid-19, the rest of the tour was unfortunately cancelled.
I’ll be honest and say, there were times when I felt like I was starting from scratch and I was back to square one. I’m sure many people did.
As a new grad with a full-steam ready to go, that was hard. Acting employment is few and far between on a normal day. Add a pandemic on top of that and as we’ve seen, it’s a whole new level.
Since 2020, I know that live art such as theatre has really taken a hit.
It’s still upsetting to read about shows being cancelled when you know how much work would have gone into making them and the jobs lost as a result.
That being said, it’s wonderful to see things getting back on their feet. There is no denying that people still have a longing to be amongst one another when watching a play or a musical or a film in the cinema.
I know that audience numbers for theatre aren’t where they were pre-pandemic. Things like music and comedy, for example, are getting those audience members back. But, time will tell.
What advice would you give to budding actors?
What I would say to those at drama school, now that I’ve been out since 2020 is to make the most of your time there.
Absolutely make the most of your time, make the most of the space that you’re in. Make the most of the opportunities that you’re given in terms of parts that you’re able to play.
The people that you are able to work with, whether that’s your colleagues in your year or directors coming in to work with you or internal staff members.
Make the most of the different departments – the movements side, the voice side, the audio side, the screen side.
Everything that you have at the place that you’re training, use it through all of the reasons that you wanted to when you auditioned in the first place.
Because that time passes by very, very quickly. Once you’re out and you’re in this world, you don’t know when your next job is coming in and you don’t know when you’re next going to work.
That can be at times really hard and scary. So what I would say is just live every day at drama school as if it’s your last one.
The second thing I would say is, which is what I’m working through at the moment is just push, push, push to make it work.
What do I mean by that? There will be a lot of times which I’ve certainly experienced where I think ‘what’s the point in doing this? Am I getting anywhere with it?’.
I think just use your might and your resilience. Know your worth, value and why you want to be an actor and why you want to be in this industry.
Why do you want to make a career for yourself in this? You’ll run into times where you will question that and you’ll think ‘is it worth it?’.
“I just think whilst you’ve got that steam and that energy and that passion, absolutely 100% go for it.”
Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I really wish everybody out there who is pursuing an acting career, all the best.
It’s so clear to see how Anya Jaya-Murphy believes in the power of acting and what it can do for the creative arts.
Rice is unparalleled in its observation of politics, identity and ambition. Anya Jaya-Murphy along with her co-actor, Angela, are magnificent in telling this story.
Anya talks with passion, motivation and a magnetic aura, which are the same elements she presents in the production.
Rice was first performed in Australia in 2017, winning the Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Original Stage Play.
This emphasises the success of the production and how it resonates with all audiences.
Anya’s emotive monologues, vivid movements and striking ambience in the play are impeccable, making Rice critical viewing.
Not to mention how the play touches upon very real yet overlooked topics within both professional and personal spaces.
All of which Angela Yeoh and Anya Jaya-Murphy do brilliantly in presenting to onlookers.
Rice is presented by Actors Touring Company and Orange Tree Theatre, in association with Theatre Royal Plymouth.
Touring the UK until April 14, 2022, from Plymouth to Newcastle, find out more about Anya Jaya-Murphy and Rice here.