Abraham Popoola: 15 questions

Award-winning actor Abraham Popoola tells us about the Royal Court’s surreal and chilling new play, Pity.

1 / 1

Abraham Popoola – remember the name. Since graduating from RADA in 2016, he has appeared in a summer season at Shakespeare’s Globe and starred opposite David Morrissey and Ben Whishaw in Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre.

Before that, he took the title role in Othello for Bristol’s Tobacco Factory. It was only his second theatre role since drama school, yet his performance earned him The Stage Debut Award for Best Actor in a Play.

He’s built on his Shakespearean success by appearing at the UK’s most famous new writing venue, the Royal Court Theatre. This summer, he leads the cast of Pity, a new play by Rory Mullarkey, that begins on a normal day in an average village square. Then, everything takes a turn for the absurd. And for the worst.

Bombs explode and ice creams are eaten. There are snipers and sandwiches, atrocities and azaleas. It’s a play that questions whether things are getting worse, and if we care.

Abraham Popoola tells us more:

Pity at Royal Court Theatre (Image: Helen Murray, courtesy of Royal Court Theatre)
Abraham Popoola and the cast of Pity at Royal Court Theatre (Image: Helen Murray, courtesy of Royal Court Theatre)

What is Pity about?

Pity is a play that gives us the opportunity to examine our collective and individual relationships with the problems that plague our world, and how we feel about them.

What made you want to appear in this show?

The script. I had read nothing like it before and I’d definitely seen nothing like it.

Is the show as bleak as it sounds?

Definitely not… but also, yes! You’ll have to see it to understand.

Are things getting worse and do we care?

So much is getting better. So much is staying the same. And some things seem to be getting worse. I think we care but maybe we don’t know what to do with that care or how to care in a way that helps things get better.

Has anything surprised you during rehearsals?

It has been like working in a room where everyone is a genius. It’s been a surprise to see how much selflessness and passion there has been to enable this play to have a life. The relationship between the writer and director has been particularly beautiful to witness, as well as be a part of.

Pity at Royal Court Theatre (Image: Helen Murray, courtesy of Royal Court Theatre)
Pity, starring Abraham Popoola , at Royal Court Theatre (Image: Helen Murray, courtesy of Royal Court Theatre)

How do you feel about performing at the Royal Court Theatre?

It’s a dream come true. It’s a place where ideas are pushed and challenged, and it garners a respect for its constant risk taking and boldness. I never thought I’d work here so early in my career and in a play like this one.

How did you feel about winning The Stage Debut Award for Best Actor in a Play for your performance in Othello?

Extremely humbled. Awards weren’t something I had thought about during that show, so it was a surprise to be nominated. I felt so supported by a host of industry professionals that didn’t know me but believed in what they had seen in me. It’s a massive honour to be associated with it and doesn’t harm the confidence at all!

What was your first experience of theatre?

I was 14 and went to Stratford-upon-Avon to watch The Crucible by Arthur Miller on a school trip. I was gripped! I can still see the first scene of that play so clearly in my mind.

Why is watching a live performance so special?

You’re witnessing something that has never happened before and will never happen again in the way that it did that night. And it’s something that couldn’t have happened without you.

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?

Always back yourself. (And learn your lines!)

Apart from the Royal Court, which is your favourite London theatre?

Maybe the National Theatre? I’ve witnessed a lot of magic there and the scale of it really captures my imagination.

Why do you think London is such a great place to experience theatre?

I think one reason might be because there is so much out there, so many theatres big and small. It pushes artists to be inventive and make their productions count.

Which one other London show are you excited about at the moment?

Probably the West End transfer of Misty by Arinzé Kene. I missed it the first time round, so I’m excited to catch it when it’s back.

Where is your favourite place to visit in London?

In this weather, I’m quite enjoying riding my bike along the Regent’s Canal.

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

Ummm, I would say… have a good sleep the night before and put your phone on flight mode. Oh, and bring water!

Abraham Popoola stars in Pity at the Royal Court Theatre until 11 August.