Playing the lead character of Walter, the young father in American drama A Raisin in the Sun, Ashley Zhangazha says he found insight close to home.
“I have been talking a lot to my own father about what it was like when I was a 10-year-old and he was more or less the same age as Walter in that relationship and we talked a lot about wanting your own boy to succeed in life and doing all you possibly can to ensure your family has the best start in life.
“My dad is from Zimbabwe and he came over here in the Seventies to study and came with not much at all and managed to go to university and have a good job as a housing manager in London and he was able to advance and give me a good start in life. I have been able to put that to good use.”
Zhangazha previously appeared at the Crucible as Ross in Macbeth (winning the Ian Charleson Award) and has further Shakespearean experience with the Michael Grandage Company, along with playing Laertes to Maxine Peake’s Hamlet at the Royal Exchange, which he says has also been helpful in getting into the Afro-American vernacular of Lorraine Hansberry’s play.
“There is a rhythm to it and in that sense it’s similar to Shakespeare in having to learn the rhythm and the metre and the verse even though this doesn’t have the same structure. There is a kind of musicality to the way Afro-American people speak. I have been listening to a lot of things on YouTube of people speaking at the time.
Appearing in August Wilson’s Fences in the West End also helped. “This is Chicago and Fences was set in Pittsburgh but the accents are similar. The vernacular tends to be the same wherever you are in America with slight variations.” Starring as his father was Lenny Henry who by coincidence Zhangazha had once played as a boy on TV.
A Raisin in the Sun runs until February 13 at the Crucible Studio and then tours.