Actress Adjoa Andoh has lived in and loved Brixton since 1984.
Known on the UK stage for her roles at the RSC, National Theatre, and the Royal Court Theatre, Adjoa is also a familiar face on film and television having featured in 90 episodes of the BBC’s long-running medical drama Casualty and starred as Nelson Mandela’s Chief of Staff Brenda Mazikubo in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, alongside Morgan Freeman as Mandela
Julius Caesar: Shakespeare’s African Play
Adjoa is currently playing Portia in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar. Like the majority of people who have studied Julius Caesar at school, Adjoa’s first impression of the play was lifeless and long-winded. She recalls how her 1978 classmates were busy “losing the will to live” as the play took a small lifetime to read aloud. So, how, in her opinion, have the RSC managed to turn Julius Caesar into a smash hit, which continues, months into its run, to play to packed houses and rave reviews?
Adjoa describes how the director of Julius Caesar [incoming Artistic Director of the RSC],Greg Doran, breathed new life into the piece, “stream-lining” the text and allowing the play a faster and more intense momentum with dialogue which “drives one piece of action after another”. She also praises Greg’s vision for making this tragedy, which has before been labelled ‘Shakespeare’s African Play’ before, to become just that.
As Adjoa describes the rigorous processes the cast went through, it is evident that Doran’s vision for setting the play in an unnamed African state with an all black cast, did “have some legs” as Adjoa puts it, and wouldn’t be something she was embarrassed to be in. Julius Caesar has been “meaningfully rehabilitated” into an African setting; what was so exciting about working on the play was that this rehabilitation allowed the cast and the audience to see Shakespeare’s characters afresh.
Adjoa is hugely complimentary about the other cast members and describes Paterson Joseph, who plays her on-stage husband, Brutus, (and who is probably best known for his role as Johnson in cult hit, Peep Show) as a “terrible giggler”. In what is often Shakespeare’s most cumbersome tragedy, Greg Doran and the outstanding cast have managed to rediscover Shakespeare’s timeless sympathy for the ironies of the human condition.
From Casualty to Clint Eastwood
Adjoa’s career to date boasts an impressive variety of material and media and she delights in balancing the immediacy of a sit-in audience with the different challenges of long-running TV drama. Playing staff nurse Colette for a staggering 90 episodes on BBC’s flagship drama Casulaty has left Adjoa with huge admiration for actors who remain in rolling series, playing the same characters, maintaining a sense of their character’s integrity.
Much more than a crowd or critic-pleaser, Adjoa is a passionately political woman. Her proudest moments include her role as Condoleezza Rice in David Hare’s Stuff Happens, a political play about the Bush era which played to critical acclaim at the National Theatre and starring opposite Morgan Freeman in the Clint Eastwood directed Invictus: “I love politics… I’m a real anorak.”
“Working with Clint [Eastwood] wasn’t the terrifying experience it could have been… as an actor, he just allows you to get on with it”. Adjoa is keen to impress that the filming process was also a big learning curve – not just because of the Hollywood heavyweight – she learnt more about Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid describing the process as “deeply humbling”as she discovered communities that were “hardworking, generous and courageous” in the most difficult of circumstances.
When Adjoa first moved to London from a small, uniformly-white Cotswolds village where she grew up, Brixton granted her a sense of freedom where she was no longer looked at everywhere she went.
Since her move, Adjoa describes how Brixton has granted her everything you could ask of an area: great music, a social life, amazing food (she still delights in being able to stock her Dad’s store cupboard with Ghanaian fare whenever she goes back home to the Cotswolds), good schools and child care for her family and a great range of community facilities. Ever the political animal, she’s naturally concerned about the funding cuts to libraries, “essential providers of stories” for everyone.
What does she think is special about Brixton? “The area is a fantastically welcoming place, a place where so many people of all different cultures, ethnicities and sexualities have come to take refuge and lose themselves in the vibrant mix.” Her hopes for Brixton’s future are that it doesn’t “fill up with cutesy lunch venues” and that local people continue to appreciate the whole spectrum of what Brixton can offer.
Julius Caesar is currently on a UK tour – details can be found at www.rsc.org.uk/caesar