11 questions: Room star Fela Lufadeju

Fela Lufadeju, who plays Big Jack in the stage adaptation of bestselling novel Room, tells us about the show and Theatre Royal Stratford East.

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In the beginning, Emma Donoghue’s Room was a novel. A very successful novel. It was so successful, in fact, that it was longlisted for the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Then Donoghue took the story of a mother and child held captive in an outbuilding and transformed it into a movie. A very successful movie that earned four Oscar nominations.

But how do you take the story of Jack, a child born in captivity who has only known life within the same four walls, and bring it to the stage? The answer Donoghue and director Cora Bissett found was to have two actors playing Jack, a child to play Little Jack and an adult to play Big Jack, who gives voice to the workings of the child’s mind.

We quizzed Fela Lufadeju, who plays Big Jack, about the show, Theatre Royal Stratford East and how he ended up performing on its stage:

Fela Lufadeju, Harrison Wilding and Witney White in Room (Image: Scott Rylander)
Fela Lufadeju, Harrison Wilding and Witney White in Room (Image: Scott Rylander)

How would you describe Room?

It’s a story of love between a mother and her son.

Why did you want to appear in it?

I wanted to appear in it because I was bowled over by the script. I cried because I was incredibly moved by Emma Donoghue’s beautiful writing. I knew straightaway that I wanted to be a part of it.

How would you describe your character?

My character is the inner thoughts of Jack. He allows the story to be depicted through a child’s point of view. Jack, as Little and Big, is beginning to figure out a sense of reality.

Is there an audience that would particularly enjoy this show?

It has something for everyone. The story of the bond between a mother and her child is a universal thing, and everyone should come and see it!

Room has already been a hit novel and film. How much did you refer to them in creating the stage version and what do you think staging brings to the story?

I think that the play stands alone. Emma said to me that she always had the idea that it was going to be a play because it lends itself to theatre so much. It’s brilliant to see a piece of theatre that has such an emotional journey within it.

How would you describe Theatre Royal Stratford East?

It’s a very community-orientated building which is incredibly friendly and welcoming.

What was your first experience of theatre?

It was at Theatre Royal Stratford East, funnily enough! I went to secondary school at Sir John Cass, which is just round the corner in Stepney Green. They brought me to see Bashment, which is a Rikki Beadle-Blair play about homosexuality in the bashment music scene. At that point I realised I wanted to work in theatre but didn’t know in what capacity.

Since then, I’ve had the ‘This is what I’m meant to do’ realisation and followed it. It’s so strange to come full circle and be back on the stage that I was watching as a teenager. Theatre Royal Stratford East has a huge bond with schools and educating through the arts, and that’s a strong part of why I love working in this building.

Why is live performance so special?

There’s something incredibly visceral about a good piece of theatre. I believe in energy and that a human-to-human connection can be something truly powerful. When we see those themes in films we have a sense of separation from them. But when you’re in the theatre and you watch those themes unfold right before your eyes, it’s a special thing. It makes us realise that those stories we hear about actually happen to real people and we can relate to their struggles in so many more ways than we ever thought we could!

Apart from Theatre Royal Stratford East, what’s your favourite London theatre?

I love the National Theatre because I love the work that they do there and the boundaries they push, especially in terms of race. I think art is most reflective when you see yourself in it, and at the National there’s a voice for everyone.

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?

I’m an aspiring performer! I would say, “Stay true to yourself.”

What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?

Don’t bring sweets and popcorn; leave it at the bar.

Fela Lufadeju stars in Room at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 3 June.