Roger Ajogbe stars as Roland in Proud, Bren Gosling’s powerful drama, tackling racism and homophobia, which runs for a week at London’s New Wimbledon Studio from 29 October 2021 as part of the ATG Premieres Season of new writing. He took a break from rehearsals to tell us more about the play. Time to get booking!
After his Pentecostal mother dies, Roland – black and 40 years old – is liberated to live openly as a gay man. He relocates from Brixton to E17, where he unexpectedly falls for Amir, a 21-year-old refugee with a war-torn past. Their magnetic connection is tested, however, by Amir’s PTSD, his inability to identify as gay and Roland’s strained relationship with his 15-year-old son, Gary.
What binds these three characters together is the desire to know and understand one another as they struggle to come to terms with their own identities.
Roger Ajogbe is joined in the Proud cast by Kiren Kebaili- Dwyer and newcomer Levi Goldmeier. The premiere production is directed by Marlie Haco.
What is the play about?
Proud deals with the issues that arise when worlds collide. It examines the complexity of truths we tell others and ourselves and the differences between the two. At its core, it’s a story about modern love and every twist and turn that it brings. It’ll make you smile, laugh, tear up and cheer.
Who do you play?
I play Roland, newly out and 40 years old. He’s kind, compassionate, but desperately lonely and looking for connection. He’s grappling with the reality of living his new life as a gay man and how this conflicts with his conservative past. Roland’s character examines the circumstances around the choices we make about what is best for us versus what is best for those we love most. His struggle is very relatable. He aches to live sincerely in his truth after waiting so long to do so.
The play deals with some pretty hard-hitting themes. How have you managed those in the rehearsal room?
We’ve spoken about the best way to portray true emotion. We talked about love and loss, fear and faith, honesty and half-truths. Would you risk what is for what could be? We’ve discussed how much bravery it requires to commit to the unknown, especially if this has potentially catastrophic consequences.
Marlie Haco (our director) has used a very physical approach, exploring what certain emotions feel like in the body and using more abstract techniques to examine how gesture and physicality can influence the internal landscape. She also runs a lot of movement exercises to build trust between us as a company.
We’ve spoken about the best way to portray true emotion… love and loss, fear and faith, honesty and half-truths.
Bren Gosling (the playwright) writes with clarity and nuance, but crucially, has left plenty of room for us to interpret the spaces in between the lines. Marlie had already done much of the hard work for us, preparing what has happened offstage or just before a scene begins. Yet she gives us the agency to express ourselves in the room.
We use a lot of improvisation to explore different angles of interpretation before using the exact words from the script. Together, Bren and Marlie have built a framework for us to fill with honest portrayals of the characters. It’s been a pleasure.
Do the play’s themes resonate with you personally?
I found I had a lot more in common with Roland than I thought I would. It’s his humanity that really shone through for me. There’s a great quote by Seneca the Younger, a Roman stoic philosopher, that comes to mind:
“There are more things likely to frighten us than there are to crush us… we suffer more in imagination than in reality.”
Fearing an outcome can shape us either positively, or negatively. I’ve struggled with being honest with myself at times, especially regarding what others would think of me. I’m pretty sure a lot of people will relate to Roland’s dilemma.
How have you found returning to rehearsals after lockdown?
We have all been super careful and the due diligence made by the production team to keep us safe made it a lot easier to make the adjustment. Reading lines to a screen can’t really replace human interaction, so it feels great to finally be back in a room with other creatives. A camaraderie develops when you’re in the same space – it’s hard to replace millions of years of evolutionary nuance with pixels. We’re all very happy to be here.
What are you most proud of about Proud?
It’s such a beautiful and happy story when it could have only looked at the potentially sad and negative aspects of the situation. It doesn’t skirt over authentic feelings or reactions or limit the story by providing only one perspective. It gives space for what is possible when we exercise our capacity to work things out. Proud manages to weave several stories together in a realistic and beautiful way. I love the script more and more each time I read it.
What do you expect audiences to feel after they see the show?
I hope they get to feel how I felt after our first readthrough – warm and fulfilled. I expect them to leave with a smile on their faces. Well, I hope they do! Bren, Marlie, and the rest of the team have worked so hard to bring this to fruition. I hope audiences love it as much as we all do.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Get your tickets ASAP! It’s not to be missed and thanks very much for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you.