Young missionary Daniel Everett arrived in the Amazon rainforest in 1977, with a clear mission: to study the Pirahã tribe and convert them to Christianity.

He left 30 years later an atheist, having been converted himself by their unique outlook on life and fascinating system of language, which is utterly at odds with Noam Chomsky’s universally accepted linguistic theories.

His book Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes, which the tribe say instead of ‘goodnight’ and it has now been transformed into a play by north London theatre company simple8, which traces how language, culture and experience shape us all.

It stars Mark Arends, Christopher Doyle, Yuriri Naka, Emily Pennant-Rea, Clifford Samuel and American living in London Rachel Handshaw who tells us more.

Tell me about the play in your own words?

It’s about a missionary who goes to live with a tribe called the Pirahãs and to learn the language and he ends up questioning his own faith and learning the unique features of their language and culture which change his ideas about life. It’s really fascinating.

Who do you play?

There are six in the cast, one actor plays Dan the missionary and the rest of us all play members of the tribe. My character is called Rachel, like me. I’m juggling more parts but my other main character is the linguist who is a version of Noam Chomsky. Dan’s language theory refutes Chomsky’s main theory of linguistics and humanity of universal grammar. So I get to have a wonderful debate with Dan.

Did you know the story before?

No I bought the book after I was cast. It’s not generally the sort of thing I would read so it’s great to dip into a whole other world.

Can you identify with your tribal character?

The Pirahãs are such a fascinating culture, they live in the present completely, there’s no worry. As a Westerner it’s incredibly difficult but also really freeing and joyous- they laugh at everything. I’ve been able to tap into the laughter which helps.

What have you learnt from it?

That humanity is just so varied and there isn’t just one way of living. It’s easy to get into your own little bubble and follow your own little route through life without looking up and that’s a shame. If you do you will see this tribe on the other side of the world who have a completely different philosophy of life and are completely happy.

Why is this story relevant today?

The Pirahãs are unique, they resisted conversion or any Western influence for almost 250 years. Religion is still powerful today and there are still missionaries going out from the Evangelical church to convert people but Dan, in real life and in the play, completely fails. They are completely uninterested because they don’t need Christianity.

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

Rachel in rehearsals

What do you think of converting people to a religion?

I think it’s a terrible idea. It leads to problems.

Did you experience a culture shock when you moved over here four years ago?

I teeny bit. Especially as the first place I lived was Scotland, in Glasgow so the first couple of weeks there was a culture shock and trying to understand what people were saying to me. I did feel a bit like a fish out of water and had to adapt very quickly and find my feet which I enjoyed.

What brought you over?

Drama school. I was living in New York and applied to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, it’s now called the Royal Conservatoire Scotland, on a whim. Then when I got in I decided to move to Glasgow and see what happened and now I live in London, in Brixton. So that split second decision changed my life and I’m grateful every day I did it. We don’t have drama schools in America we have universities that are more specialized for drama and acting. I went to Sarah Lawrence and then moved to New York and was doing the starving actor thing there for two years. I got so focused on auditions and rejections and being on the treadmill that I forgot why I wanted to do acting. And Scotland helped me find that passion again and gave me a jump start on my career.

What is it like being an American in London?

It’s great. There are quite a lot of Americans here. Most are here because of family or getting married though. I’m the only person I know who is here on my own. It’s just as cultural as New York, but also just as expensive.

Did we have cultural habits you find weird?

The apologising. I started doing it and was like ‘no American’s don’t apologies for anything’. There is self deprecation in British culture that I have to adjust to. The humour is lovely. But it is like ‘god, stop apologising’.

Your favorite English phrase?

Take the pi*s and up the duff.

Will you be voting in the American elections?

Yes I’m still an American citizen. I voted to re-elect Obama and this one is even more important, although it is lasting forever. I’m tired of hearing about it I’m definitely glad not to be there I think it would be insufferable as you get pummelled by it. I completely agree with the Trump bashing but it is tiring. I’m assuming Hilary Clinton will get the Democratic nomination so I will vote for her. But I will vote for anyone but Trump. A donkey would make a better President.

Tell me about your upcoming part in the Edward Snowden movie.

The bit I was in was filmed in Germany last year. Oliver Stone came to the casting so I got to meet him. He’s lovely and very knowledgeable. He’s very thorough. I only have a few lines but he came to the audition which is very unusual, they usually just watch you on film. I play a polygraph administrator for the CIA and he sent me to so the training. I didn’t have to do it on camera but the knowledge was there about how I would do my job and theoretically I could do it. It was a great experience. Joseph Gordon Levit will be an amazing Edward Snowden, I was in a brief scene with him and it was great.

Did Snowden do the right thing?

Yes, without a doubt. He paid the price for it but there has to be someone to expose these practices or they will go on forever and no one will question it. Now we are looking at privacy laws and what we allowed to happen after 9/11 and how we just sort of let it all go in the name of the war on terrorism. And that’s completely wrong.

Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, March 22 to April 23. Details: 020 7870 6876, parktheatre.co.uk