As someone with little experience of theatre from his youth, it's quite an achievement for David Ajao to be playing both Orlando and Pompey at the RSC at just 30 years old.
David isn't from a theatrical family and was not taken to the theatre by school, despite growing up in London. He mainly chose Drama as an exam subject because he thought he might pass it, then went on to college to please his mum, who had hopes of him pursing a professional career outside of acting. He took theatre studies alongside a Higher National Diploma before being accepted for an acting course at Rose Bruford College. There for the first time he encountered classical and modern drama, and was encouraged to adopt the RP accent.
David was chosen to play Romeo with Box Clever Theatre in 2013 - the company creates quality theatre for young people. He was delighted to be able to drop the “actorlect” and find his own voice, becoming an actor the young audience could identify with. For the first time, discovering the strong intentions of a character came before the spoken text. He realised that the words arise out of the character’s need for them, expressing the specific emotion of that moment for the individual.
David's time with the RSC began in 2015 as he performed in Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Hecuba. Othello was a major learning experience for him as an actor. He was understudying Iago, enjoying one golden opportunity to perform the role, and used the season to observe great actors and learn from them. Lucian Msamati, who played Iago, taught him a lot, especially how to make a choice and then run with it fully. He learnt how actors like Ray Fearon command the stage by taking their time and including the audience, where a young actor may try to rush the connection.
As You Like It
Director Kimberley Sykes told David she wanted no “wet fish”, encouraging him to discover Orlando's fire, which finds an outlet in his fight with Charles the wrestler and which Rosalind finds so attractive. He has found his own line too in his relationship with Old Adam, accepting his loyalty in wanting to accompany him into exile as something of a mixed blessing rather than reacting sentimentally. It is these choices that lift the character of Orlando off the page.
Measure for Measure
Considering his large role in As You Like It, David says that he would have been happy enough to get a minor role in Measure for Measure, with the opportunity of working under Artistic Director Gregory Doran. Of course, when Greg offered him Pompey, he was over the moon, thrilled that Greg had confidence in him to do it. David says that he takes the time to prepare before rehearsal as his unfamiliarity with Shakespeare’s language means that he must. He has ideas about his character, but is open to new discoveries as he goes into rehearsal, his energy and enthusiasm ready to engage with this new play.
As You Like It is currently playing in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, with Measure for Measure opening on 28 June.
Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.