Samson Kayo: Chewing Gum inspired me to tell my own story

Samson Kayo: Chewing Gum inspired me to tell my own story

Tuesday, 28th May 2019
Joshua (Samson Kayo) and Ricky (Theo Barklem-Biggs) in Sliced (Credit: UKTV)
(Credit: UKTV)Joshua (Samson Kayo) and Ricky (Theo Barklem-Biggs) in Sliced (Credit: UKTV)
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Matthew Bell enjoys a piece of Sliced, Dave’s new pizza-delivery sitcom, at an RTS Futures event

Over the past few years, UKTV channel Dave has notched up an impressive series of hits with home-grown comedies such as Taskmaster and Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish.

Now it has high hopes for Sliced, a sitcom based on Samson Kayo’s crazy experiences as a South London pizza delivery driver, launched this month.

Kayo, who made his name in Timewasters and Famalam, stars with White Gold’s Theo Barklem-Biggs as hapless drivers Joshua and Ricky. They deliver pizza to their larger-than-life customers on the estates of Peckham. Kayo wrote the three-part series with the show’s producer, Phil Bowker.

Kayo, Bowker and Barklem-Biggs were part of a panel at an RTS Futures event in early May, which screened the first episode of Sliced, followed by a discussion with some of the talent behind the show. “I’ve been doing comedy for quite a while and I’d never seen [lives like mine] depicted on telly [until] I saw Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum. It inspired me to tell my own story,” said Kayo.

The actor had worked on The Javone Prince Show with Bowker, who encouraged him to write material. “He taught me how to write. I had loads of ideas, but I didn’t know about structure,” said Kayo. “Phil asked me to think of an idea [for a series) and I came up with Sliced because I’ve lived that life. We kept it very authentic to south-east London, not making it look dangerous and scary, but showing its light side.”

Phil Bowker is steeped in comedy as a producer (Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul and Pulling) and, latterly, as a writer (PhoneShop and The Javone Prince Show).

“Samson would come to my house and I’d cook for him – I was like his nan,” said Bowker, a Liverpudlian and 20 years older than Kayo. “It was a lovely experience. We’d just chat and he’d tell me mad things. We’d then go away and write a draft [script] and work on it.”

When UKTV director of commissioning Richard Watsham saw the eight-minute taster tape for what would become Sliced, he was bowled over. “It was unlike anything else we were getting sent,” he said. “It really stood out. First, because it was really funny, and – not just because you’re sitting here – we thought you [Kayo] were quite good. Joshua is the most loveable character.”

Sliced features newcomers, up-and-coming actors such as Theo ­Barklem-Biggs and Weruche Opia, and the seasoned star of Quadrophenia, Phil Daniels.

RTS Futures Sliced screening (Credit: Paul Hampartsoumian)

“We’re looking for raw talent. If you’re right for a role, you’re right – it doesn’t matter where you come from,” said casting director Sally Broome, who worked on PhoneShop and The Javone Prince Show. She offered Wesley Bozonga his first TV role as an angry teenager in Sliced.

Barklem-Biggs enjoyed working with new talent on the sitcom. “It keeps things fresh and they always bring something a bit more interesting, which I envy in a way. But [Wesley] was also like a pro because he was ad-libbing. He was on it – I remember being quite blown away.”

Even for established talent, acting can be a precarious profession. “I’ve known Samson for eight years and he had me in mind for [the role of Ricky), which was flattering. I’m very grateful for that, because it meant I didn’t have to audition. It had been a hard year – I was doing unskilled labouring, getting all the worst jobs on a construction site,” recalled Barklem-Biggs.

"Not getting a role doesn’t mean you aren’t good"

Weruche Opia (Bad Education and Inside No 9), who plays pizza worker Naomi in Sliced, had been working on the stage. When the play’s run finished, she struggled to land a new job. “I was auditioning like crazy and getting really close to stuff,” she recalled. “That’s the reality of [acting] – there are peaks and there are really dark times. Persistence is key.

“As actors, we base our worth on getting work but… there are lots of elements that go into casting, so not getting a role doesn’t mean you aren’t good.”

Sometimes, however, everything clicks. “I read the script and thought it was hilarious,” said Opia. “Phil left after Weruche’s audition,” recalled Kayo. “He said, ‘Right, that’s [Naomi cast], I’m off.’”

The RTS Futures event ‘Sliced: screening and Q&A’, was held at the London Transport Museum on 8 May. It was produced by Ali Laurie and Gem Pinkney, and chaired by Sam Homewood from Love Island Aftersun.

Assistance for new talent

UKTV and Film London’s Equal Access Network have launched the All Voices initiative to boost the employment of under-represented groups in the TV industry. For up to 12 months, those selected for the scheme – from new entrants to mid-level professionals to returners to the industry – will work in paid roles on UKTV original productions, helping them to increase their experience and build contacts in TV.

‘We weren’t doing enough at UKTV to get a mixture of different people making shows,’ admitted director of commissioning Richard Watsham. ‘At the end of their 12 months [on the scheme], people will, hopefully, have three or four things on their CVs, which then gives them a decent opportunity to get work elsewhere.’

David Mumeni and Theo ­Barklem-Biggs 
with Open Door participants
(Credit: Paul Hampartsoumian)

David Mumeni, who plays pizza takeaway manager Mario in Sliced, founded Open Door, which helps young people who lack financial support gain a place at the UK’s leading drama schools.

‘We offer one-to-one tuition with actors or directors who, perhaps, are from a similar background,’ he explained. ‘They get workshops, working with movement directors such as Polly Bennett, who helped Rami Malek win an Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury; they get into the theatre for free; and there’s a hardship fund.’

He continued: ‘[We’re] levelling the playing field, [helping people] to catch up on cultural experience.’ Open Door aims to build confidence ‘so, when they enter those [audition] rooms, they feel that they deserve to be there’.

How they started… and kept at it

Theo Barklem-Biggs went to the Brit School from the age of 14: ‘At 18, I got an agent, after doing a showcase, and I got a recall for The Bill. I decided not to go on a lads’ holiday to Benicàssim and it paid off – I got [the role].’

Phil Bowker performed stand-up as a teenager before training as a comedy producer for BBC Radio: ‘It was full of Oxbridge people – they were so super-smart, but then you get over that and realise… you can make people laugh.’

Sally Broome started as a receptionist at a casting studio, met a casting director and did her apprenticeship with her: ‘I worked with Armando Iannucci, Steve Coogan and other comedy greats.’

Samson Kayo made his debut in Aml Ameen’s 2011 short film Drink, Drugs and KFC: ‘That was the first time I’d been in the realm of actors – from that moment on I knew this was what I wanted to do.’

David Mumeni studied at the Drama Centre London: ‘I wasn’t one of those actors who just [took off] but, slowly, slowly, [it happened].’

Weruche Opia studied drama at the University of the West of England and then at the Identity School of Acting: ‘There’s been ups and downs since then – it’s not been plain sailing.’

Richard Watsham began as a runner and ‘people were just shouting in my face all day long’. He persisted on the theory that, ‘If I do enough shit jobs for long enough, eventually, other people will have given up on telly.’

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