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Interview: Freema Agyeman Talks APOLOGIA, Sense8 And The Female Doctor

Freema Agyeman in rehearsal
for Apologia

Freema Agyeman rose to fame with roles on TV shows like Doctor Who, Torchwood, Law and Order: UK and Sense8. Now, she's making her West End debut in black comedy Apologia at Trafalgar Studios, alongside Stockard Channing and Laura Carmichael. The play begins previews on 29 July.

What attracted you to the project?

I kind of was at a point in my career where I've worked solely in television for 15 years, and I was always seeking diversification in my roles to keep it creatively interesting for myself and keep things moving, but there came a point where I thought I need to pursue a new outlet altogether.

Sometimes to facilitate growth as an artist you need to step out of your comfort zone, and the longer you stay in one medium, the more you become accustomed to that - it's your experience, your contacts, your training, everything. So when this project came up, I grabbed it with my sweaty novice hands!

Is it scary making your West End debut?

It is scary, but when I found out who's involved, the calibre of experience of Olivier Award winners like Alexi Kaye Campbell and Jamie Lloyd, and of course the incredible Stockard Channing, it's all so impressive on paper. And then what did it was receiving the play and actually reading it - I was so excited when I finished that final page, I wanted to call my agent straightaway, but it was about 1am!

It made me laugh out loud, it made me cry, it made me wish I had someone sat beside me so I could discuss some of the issues and debates it raises. It's just a real roller coaster, and I was so excited by every different character.

It's rare you get something with both this macro message and a micro one, the detail of social politics, rituals, the games we play, all those interconnections in families, as well as these big ideas.

Stockard Channing in rehearsal
for Apologia

Could you relate to your actress character Claire?

There are definitely moments I totally identified. I was chuckling away to myself, like when she says she dabbled in Buddhism at one point and it reminded me of this spiritual journey we all explore now and again. And there are more fundamental aspects, like why she became an actress and her experience of the industry.

Then there are certain points that are nothing like me, but the fun of rehearsal is trying to find connections with those aspects just as honestly and genuinely as you do with the parts that are more your own experience.

What do you think of the play's depiction of radical politics?

The protagonist in this play, Stockard's character, is a liberal art historian who's also a political activist, and she made the ultimate sacrifice - the love of her children - to get the world in order for the sake of everyone's children, so it's really complex.

She can come across as cold, but it's actually idealism that's hardened her so much. By spreading so much compassion that far and wide, it ends up spreading thinly on her nearest and dearest - but that can be the price of political gain, of making a difference on a global scale.

Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who

Does it feel particularly resonant now?

It's interesting, we had this explosion of female voices in the Sixties and Seventies, with women on marches, and yet still today, in 2017, people are in uproar about a female Doctor in Doctor Who! We've come so far, but there's still so much work to do. The play is funny, but it's also quite dark and depressing in that respect. But we hope that we can really encourage those conversations.

You can look around at society now, and people of all different ages are getting up, getting out there, standing up for what they believe in, fighting for their rights. And supporting each other - it's not just what you need for yourself, it's what someone else needs too. If we all held the door open for the person after us, we'd all be walking through open doors.

The play is really wide-ranging - it's not just one group or age range, and it's everything from religion and sacrifice to the generation gap and rights. It's really relevant to everyone, so it's great Jamie Lloyd's company has initiatives like the £15 tickets on Mondays or in the front row, and £25 tickets for under-25s. With accessibility to theatre, cost is a big thing. It's so important to have different people from different walks of life - diversity not just on stage, but in the audience too.

What was it like doing such a representative story on Sense8?

Netflix is definitely in the vanguard when it comes to telling these brave, uninhibited stories, and the Wachowskis were keen to depict sexuality in all its forms on mainstream TV. It's really TV at its most representative and inclusive, and I was very pleased to be part of that storyline.

I've got lots of connections to the LGBTQ community, and I'm hyper-aware of the prejudices directed at people and how those prejudices are reflected on TV, so I really hoped to do it justice and create an honest portrayal of love on screen. I had a wonderful reaction from so many people in the community, and I definitely look forward to doing more work like that again.

Apologia at Trafalgar Studios 29 July-18 November

Photo credit: BBC

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