Star’s soul shines in Marvin Gaye drama

Adjoa Andoh in rehearsals for Soul
Adjoa Andoh in rehearsals for Soul

A former Casualty and Doctor Who actress has plenty of soul ahead of performing in a new show about the life of Marvin Gaye.

Adjoa Andoh plays the musician’s mother Alberta in Soul, which is having its premiere at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate starting on Friday, May 20. She has been a familiar face on the screen for the more than the last decade having played Colette Griffiths in the medical drama and Francine Jones in the sci-fi drama.

Adjoa has also made recent appearances in the hit TV shows Broadchurch and Line of Duty, as well as the film Invictus.

On April Fool’s Day 1984, hours before his 45th birthday, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father in the shared family home they called the “Big House”. What happened there has been shrouded in mystery since.

Revealing the events that took place during Marvin Gaye’s haunting final days and exploring his extraordinary life, Soul is a parable about an American family crushed by fame – a searing portrait of the dark side of the American dream.

Adjoa said: “Many people know Marvin Gaye and his music and that he was shot by his father, but there are lots of elements that got asked. The writer Roy Williams wrote this piece speaking to Marvin Gaye’s sisters and the first question he asked was what was it like to be Marvin Gaye’s brother.

“But they didn’t know him as the superstar musician, he was either the big brother or little brother away from this extraordinary life. But if there wasn’t Marvin Gaye, then there wouldn’t have been Prince and Marvin wanted to take music away from being out of exclusively appealing for black people and into the mainstream white audience.

“I think if you love Marvin Gaye or are interested in a drama all about life, it’s got a great choir, it’s got fantastic music, or if you want to see a drama all about a family then this is the play for you.”

However, while there is a huge factual side to the play, Adjoa is keen to say it is a work of fiction.

“We are not telling a historical factual tale, we are presenting a drama and there are many aspects for people’s lives. They laugh, there is music.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play real people before including Condoleeza Rice in Stuff Happens by David Hare and essentially Barbara Masekela in Invictus.

“Whenever you play a real life person, I like to do a lot of research into that person and the character and find out all about them, you can bring that to the character.

“I have been to Northampton to see friends when they have been in plays but it is the first time I have performed on the stage. I have been struck by the amount of Ghanaians that are in Northampton. It is great how multi-cultural it is.”

Adjoa has been a regular in a vareity of different mediums, but does she prefer to do stage or film work?

She said: “I like to do a mix of things especially when you are in this basis. That is an option you wouldn’t have had if you worked in Lloyd’s Bank which I did for a short time.

“I think when you are on television or film, if you make a mistake then you can also go again, however there are 75 million people waiting for you. Not just your fellow actors, but also the extras and all the behind the scenes crew.

“The downside with theatre is that you can’t go again but you have to work hard if you do mistake. But it is also something that is different. It can be different depending on whether it was warm or not, depends on what type of day you have had, you bring all these things with you.”

Having initially appeared in Casualty from 2000 to 2003, she then appeared in Doctor Who, initially as a cat nurse in one episode before then returning without the prosthetics as Francine Jones in the third series of the revived show.

Adjoa said: “I think the first part I did in Doctor Who, the good part about it was that the only thing you could see was my eyeballs. I had the full cat mask on, and a wimple, and a long outfit plus gloves. We were supposed to even have contacts in but they kept slipping around so we went witout those.

“Because you couldn’t see anything of me, I think that enabled me to come in and make a mark as Francine Jones.

“I loved that character. But if you think about it, when your daughter meets a strange man and just whisks her off with no explanation and then you find out that she is danger, I defy any mother not to have acted in the same way as Francine did.”

Indeed the Doctor Who legacy led to a whole conversation where we put the whole world to rights. She tells us about some of the most extraordinary people she has met at conventions.

She added: “The Doctor Who thing, I was in a conversation at LA and met somebody who was trans and they saved up their vacation money to come out here and she said she felt accepted here. They could say they were trans to other people, but the response was, yeah that’s great but did you see episode 13?”

It also led to another job that she is very proud of, appearing in two episodes of Channel 4 drama Cucumber which had a profound affect.

Adjoa said: “One of the other great things about the Doctor Who legacy is that I got to be in Cucumber. Russell T Davies is just one of the most generous, funny, brilliant writers. But it gave other people to tell stories with Banana and Tofu.

“I also got to be in episode six which was the episode everyone remarks on.”

But she said the drama stood out for all of the right reasons.

“But it was the most groundbreaking pieces of drama, to have those conversations about sex and sexuality, to depict mixed race relationships and it all boil down to a conversation about who puts the bins out.

“But for as an African woman to see the scene where a father on his death bed accepts his son for being gay and accepting a white man into his family is very moving.”

Not content with conquering the worlds of theatre and television, she even worked on the film Invictus which she said was one of her produest jobs.

Adjoa said: “Invictus because it was directed by Clint Eastwood and all of my scenes were with Morgan Freeman.

“For me personally it was special because my uncle Andy Ripley played rugby, he played for England and the Lions and was on Superstars so to be in a film all about rugby was a brilliant thing. He also got to play with people like Francois Pienaar.

“He was not well while the film was being made but Warner Brothers very kindly allowed me to show it to him which was a great.

“For me to be in that film, I’m from a mixed race family, so when I was young, I had apartheid explained to me and got told that my mother would live in one area, my father in another area and me and my siblings would have to live in an area deemed for coloureds. So to be able to see Robben Island and for that kind of film to happen and to be in it, you can’t put it into words.”

Soul runs until Saturday, June 11. Tickets are priced from £10 to £29.

To book tickets, call 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk.