Interviews

Conversation with Jamaican-British, Lisa Jackson, the woman behind the life character, Patty Dumplin

Written by Xavier Murphy

This week we have a conversation with Nottingham-born writer, actress, and comedian, Lisa Jackson AKA mon0lisa – out of one woman many voices . She is the  Jamaican English woman beneath larger than life character, Patty Dumplin. 

How are you connected to Jamaica?
I’m connected to Jamaica through blood and love. My father was born in Clarendon, Portland Cottage Vere. His great grandparents, mama an pupa, looked after him until pupa reunited him with his parents in England at the age of 5. When he first arrived he wished a bird would pick him up and dropped him right back at mama’s plumb tree.

I have always had a deep rooted love and respect for my Jamaican heritage which was first down to my father and his unbroken love for the land of his birth and his great granny.

My father encouraged all 4 of his children to visit Jamaica which we have all done. Our great, great granny had passed but we were delighted to meet our great granny who has since passed. I’ve visited the island on a number on occasions since and each time the plane lands I get a deep sense of belonging. It feels has if I’ve arrived home.

Tell us how you got into acting and performing?
When I was younger I spend most weekends at my grandmother’s house. It was back in the day when children should be seen and not heard so I socked up every thing I saw like a sponge.

The grandiose gestures, rhythmic, poet, and very expressive patois I heard my grandmother and her friends speak really intrigued me and it sounded beautiful to my ears. It also sounded comical at times.

I would try picking up the accent and started to make stories based on the things I heard so I could entertain friends and family just for the fun of it.

It wasn’t until my late 20s that my passion for acting an performing was ignited. The spark came from the encouragement received by a stranger who, after hearing one of my stories, introduced me to other creatives who signposted me to a range of open mic and spoken word nights.   

At one of these spoken word events, Alley Cafe in Nottingham, I meet up with some other black performers and it was on this occasion we decided to start our own cultural specific Open/Mic spoken word night.

Blackdrop, which was the name of the spoken word night, became a great platform and launch pad for many spoken word artist in Nottingham and beyond.

To mark one of our first anniversaries we hired a bigger venue and featured Benjamin Zephaniah along with ourselves.

This exposer opened new doors of opportunity to perform and develop my skills as a dramatists.  

It was at this event I was approached by both Nottingham Playhouse, who put me on a mentoring programme, and Lisa Robinson, the director of Bright Ideas Nottingham – a successful equality and diversity engagement and community involvement organisation.

Lisa, a creative at heart, needed to engage an audience and pass on key findings of a report she had written on behalf of the local authority so she commissioned me to write and perform a one-woman play. Since that time many other organisations have asked me to do the same.

Did you parents encourage your acting or did they tell you to focus on schoolwork?
To be honest this was never an issue. I didn’t take drama as an option at school because I didn’t like the profanity students were encouraged to use. Also, believe it or not, I lacked confidence and was extremely shy. So I never contemplated a career in performing arts and neither did my parents.

That aside, one particular teacher, Mrs Hammond, noticed I had a talent. She was extremely supportive and tried to push me to go to drama school. Even though I hadn’t acquired the relevant qualifications she was adamant they would enroll me because of my talent and natural ability.

Still I didn’t pursue that route because I had decided I wanted to work part time so I could spend more time in my ministry. My spirituality was and still is very important to me.

Even after I had finished secondary school in 1987 Mrs Hammond and I continued to meet to script my stories. She even tried to contact the BBC and Lenny Henry but all avenues came to a dead end.  

During my time at school my parents did encourage my writing by surprising me with a top of the range ‘Brother’ typewriter. I wasn’t that good on it and I still have copies of the scripts I produced. I can’t stop laughing at the way I use to spell things.

The fact my parents bought me that typewriter really proved to me that they believed in me which really helped build my self-confidence. It helped me to build a measure of hope and faith in myself. I knew deep down in my heart that I was a performer and that one day I would have a career in performing arts.  

Were you popular in school because of it?
Due to my shyness I only had a small circle of friends and our circle was an unpopular circle. My circle of friends included my best friend from primary school, Christoper. He was black and welsh and I loved both his accent and his contagious laugh.

He was the first person, at school, to hear my attempts at patois. I would run to school to tell him the latest happenings at my grandmother’s house in my very best Jamaican accent, just so I could hear him laugh. After much laughter he would say, ‘that never really happened did it?’

Before lessons would start, my small circle of friends would listen in to my stories and join the laugher. I think that’s what got Mrs Hammond curious.  

It wasn’t until my very last week at secondary school that I became widely known as a storyteller.  I was asked to read one of my stories in my many patois-accented voices at a special event, in front of an audience of over 200 pupils, teachers, and parents.

Directly after the event in the main hall my mother and I were invited back to the staff room to join the teachers for canapes and drinks. My Mother was horrified. So I was popular for a few minutes with the teachers but not my mother.


How did Patty Dumplin get involved British Heart Foundation?

After writing and producing a radio campaign, back in 2012, for the British Heart Foundation – using my other characters, Ali Orhan, BME Project Manager at the BHF, approached me to see if I could develop a new character with a specific focus on raising awareness around heart health that would effectively engage African Caribbean communities. That’s how Patty Dumplin was first conceived!

I’m really passionate about heart health, as like many African Caribbean families, my family has a long history of heart disease. My grandfather suffered with Angina and died in his early 40s. In fact all of his brothers died early due to heart disease and today I have uncles and aunties who have high blood pressure and cholesterol etc.

It’s an honor to be working with the BHF to pass on life saving messages. Their mantra is – ‘Fight for Every Heart Beat!’ So using Patty Dumplin to help join in that fight is not only enjoyable but brings me great satisfaction.  

How did you come up with the Patty Dumplin?
The majority of characters I’ve created, such as Enus, Vincent, Rose, and Doris, are based on our elders, as is Patty Dumplin. This time the challenge was to create a believable character with real substance if I wanted the messages to penetrate peoples hearts and minds. Patty Dumplin is a celebration of Jamaican heritage and culture; the old proverbial sayings, the mento music, the journey to the mother land, and the integration of British culture.
   
We all remember those beloved aunties from back in the day, with great determination; you still see the odd one today.

At the time of having to create Patty Dumplin I was en route to France and on the ferry walked in a whole congregation of black elders. Usually it’s spot the black person when crossing from Dover to Calais so you can imagine my excitement!

For the whole of that journey I was memorialised. I think I must have put everything I saw in those 90 minutes into the character, the colourful attire, hats and all. My only regret was that I couldn’t trail them the other side.

The character needed to make a statement in both name and appearance and that’s how the name, Patty Dumplin, evolved. Most people like patties and dumplings so I thought if I call the character Patty Dumplin most people would like her too. Also I’m sure readers will remember the song ‘Hey fatty boo, boo’? – Well say no more. 

What is your proudest moment as a performer was it your recent?
Currently my proudest moments, as a performer, are playing Patty Dumplin. Her most recent appearance at the Melting Pot Festival at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham was great but touring the African Caribbean centre’s around the UK have been exceptional. The elders have really taken to Patty Dumplin.

Over the past two years I have enjoyed putting on the Patty Dumplin show which is always sold out. The Patty Dumplin show means so much to me because it raises funds for the BHF, showcases local artist, and celebrates the health achievements of local people in our communities, plus we have a dam good laugh.

All of the above are great moments but my proudest moments playing Patty Dumplin was in Jamaica. In May 2013 my husband and I went to Jamaica so I could re-write my play ‘The Wedding’ and I thought if we’re going so is Patty Dumplin.

My husband became the nominated cameraman. We both were very nervous about the reaction we would get, but I just had to do it. 

We stayed at the Riu hotel, in St Anns Bay, Ocho Rios and it was toward the end of our last week there Patty Dumplin made her cameo appearance through the all-inclusive hotel then on the local bus toward Ocho Rios craft market. Apart from a few planned sayings everything was improvised.

Everybody we encountered on the way embraced the character with a warm welcome. We were so relieved. My most memorable moment ever will be when Patty Dumplin entered the craft market. This time the stallholders where passive while Miss Patty Dumplin touted her wise words of wisdom then danced the place down with any available man.

During that trip to Jamaica I got the acceptance I’d yearned and a kind of validation and authorisation to continue to play the character. I couldn’t wait to return home to show the video footage to my family, especially my father and grandmother. They were really proud. My grandmother expressed it this way – “Lawd, you brave eh!”

Who do you admire as an actor? 
Back in the day it most probably would have been Oliver Samuels. Today, I’m a fan of , actor and comedian, Steve Coogan for his dry wit and characterisations. Apart from that none really come to mind. I think the best actors are yet to be discovered.

You seem to find Humor in just about anything. Is this a natural talent?
My husband would disagree, especially when we are both staring down at his socks on the floor. (laughing to myself)

Life’s experience has taught me not to take myself or certain situations overly serious and to laugh at myself from time to time. Life is tough at times so a little humour, in the right places, can be a great way of putting things into perspective.

There are many ways of seeing things and for some reason my mind usually sees a funny side first. Processing this before opening my mouth keeps me out of trouble.
 

Will we be seeing Patty Dumplin in a stage play soon?
Watch this space.

My favorite guilty pleasure is...
A large Shiraz

Growing up my hero was…
Wonder-woman

A movie I never get tired of watching is …
Any of the Laurel and Hardy films

Thanks for the interview any closing thoughts for visitors to jamaicans.com
First I would like to thank Jamaicans.com for this interview and second I’d like to encourage readers to tell their stories. A lot of people like my father have fantastic stories to tell but are not confident telling them. More black writers, actors, performers and directors are need in the arts to tell these stories in the way they deserve to be told. So lets nurture each other, take ownership of our stories, and enrich more people by sharing them.  

For more information on Lisa Jackson & Patty Dumplin visit the following websites and pages: www.mon0lisa.com www.twitter.com/mon0lisa www.pattydumplin.com www.twitter.com/Patty_Dumplin www.facebook.com/PattyDumplin
 

About the author

Xavier Murphy