An Interview with Freema Agyeman
| By James Astles
Doctor Who favourite Freema Agyeman is currently starring alongside Tony and Emmy Award winner Stockard Channing, Downtown Abbey's Laura Carmichael, The Last Kingdom's Joseph Millson and Olivier Award winner Desmond Barrit in Alexi Kaye Campbell's Apologia. Wickedly funny but packing a real bite, the play about a family and its layers of secrets is directed by the Trafalgar Studios' fairy godfather Jamie Lloyd. We caught up with Freema to chat about her experience.
Freema this is your first outing on the West End stage, how are you finding it?
It's been exciting and nerve wracking in equal measure! Theatre is totally new territory for me-- other than doing plays at University and then some children's theatre after graduation, at which time I also worked on the other side of the line for 2 years as an Usher at Theatre Royal Drury Lane! But my whole professional career has been in TV. I started working in telly 15 years ago and I've always sought to diversify, but usually in the form of the roles I would pursue. Gradually, however, I felt at a stage in my career where I wanted to turn my attention to a new creative outlet altogether, to step out of my comfort zone in order to facilitate growth. It was serendipity that Apologia came along just at that time!
The play is a dark comedy, with the characters really bouncing off each other as the story unfolds. Did that draw you to your role?
It was definitely one of the many appealing aspects! Alexi Kaye-Campbell has created 6 perfectly rounded human beings, who are all deeply sympathetic and deeply flawed. At the outset, all the characters believe in something-- be it political, religious, artistic-- and as the play progresses, those beliefs are completely dissected to the point where that person starts to question it. But no one answer or one character is presented as correct, which is what makes it such an impressive piece of writing. All the opinions are valid and the audience are left to make up their own mind.
How are you finding working with the legendary Stockard Channing?
She is fascinating-- so normal and unassuming in the room and then, once she steps onto that stage and before your very eyes, she transforms into this absolute formidable powerhouse! She is so humble and utterly unaffected by her status though. It is a deep pleasure and an honour to work with her.
You were wonderful of course in both Doctor Who and Sense 8, but you seemed to really let rip as the deliciously OTT Larissa in Sex And The City prequel The Carrie Diaries. Do you miss her?
I have been lucky in my career insofar as the sheer variety of roles I've had the opportunity to play. I really only go for roles that immediately speak to me, and in some cases that's because I can identify with the character and have things in common with them, whereas in other cases it's because they are the complete opposite of me and I see them as an alter ego-- and Larissa was definitely the latter! She was a force and has a level of confidence and joie de vivre that I could only dream of possessing! So she was definitely a fun skin to step into!
Stockard Channing's character was an activist in the sixties and deplores the lack of idealism of the modern generation. Do you think the play well reflects where we are in society these days?
I think the activism in today's society is mirroring the political landscape of the 60s & 70s. In today's dark political times, more and more people are standing up and marching and campaigning for their beliefs and for their rights. We just had Women's March in January 2017!! Despite all the uprising in the 60s & 70s we still find ourselves fighting for similar things today-- women are not even on equal pay in many sectors!! So I do feel the socio-political commentary is still very relevant and stands up in the world we live in today.
The staging of the production is beautiful but very simple, with all the action taking place in a rustic kitchen. Do you think this helps the text land and resonate better with the audience?
They say that the majority of arguments in a household occur in the kitchen! So it's a perfect setting for the fireworks! The fact that all the action takes place in one room over one evening & the following morning, emphasises that this is a snapshot of this family's life, beautifully framed in Soutra Gilmore's clever design. By staging it in one room really helps to emphasise the juxtaposition of moving forward while keeping still. So much changes over the course of one evening, so many demons unearthed, so many truths told and yet we are left to wonder how much these revelations will actually impact these people's lives. Is it too late for them? Do we all keep our armours intact because it's actually the only thing holding us together? The beautiful rustic kitchen reflects Kristen, full of stories and a vibrant past, but ultimately stuck in time.
If you were to play anyone else's role in the play for a night, whose would it be?
I couldn't play anyone else's role!! They are all too perfect in them!! My favourite character though is Peter-- he is so dry he makes me laugh.
What would you hope the audience leaves the theatre thinking about at the end of the performance?
Any one of the number of topics raised! Alexi has crafted this wonderful tale, with a great many identifiable and universal themes that will resonate with audiences of all ages – like sacrifice, religion, the generation gap. Apologia is a play about totally accessible themes explored within deeply complex relationships. So what you get is a rollercoaster of a ride smashing through a seemingly pleasant birthday dinner. It's ultimately very tragic but also very, very funny.
Apologia is playing at the Trafalgar Studios until 18th November. Book tickets now so as not to miss this wonderful, thought-provoking show.