Interview with Adebayo Bolaji: Subway Ghost in Ghost the Musical

Actor Adebayo Bolaji

Adebayo is a very talented young actor who is also a musician and playwright. He has written his own play and founded Ex Nihilo Theatre Group.

Adebayo made his West End debut at the young age of fifteen in Bugsy Malone as part of the National Youth Music Theatre.

He trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has since appeared in numerous productions.

At the time of the interview, he was originating the role of the ‘Subway Ghost’ in the new hit show Ghost the Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre.
If you haven’t yet, go and see his brilliant portrayal of a very demanding role!

Adebayo has kindly answered a few questions about his life and career – enjoy this fabulous interview!

When did you first realise that you wanted to be a singer/an actor?
When I was about ten…. I saw Daniel Day Lewis in ‘My Left Foot’. And at that age no film really got my attention in any kind of self-reflective way, other than entertaining me… I remember being taken by the opening scene, where he uses his foot to write, and his whole performance in the film. His dedication and commitment to the role I think is what struck a chord with me, and there seemed to be something interesting and even enjoyable in wanting to or pretending to be someone else. I think (if I’m to select any particular moment), it was then that I became consciously aware of wanting to act.
As to singing, I’ve always been a Michael Jackson fan and singing/music has always been around me (I’m a musician as are members of my family) so I guess it has always been there.

Do you have any role models?
I don’t have role models as such; however, I’m inspired by and attracted to artists who demonstrate certain qualities. From Daniel Day Lewis to Charlie Chaplin, James Brown, Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson, Sidney Poitier (definitely Sidney Poitier) and Martin Scorsese… all demonstrate energy, attention to detail, commitment and individualism in their work. I think, if one is going to do something – go all the way otherwise, don’t do it at all.

You made your West End debut at the young age of fifteen in the National Youth Musical Theatre’s production of Bugsy Malone at the Queen’s Theatre. What was that like for you?
Amazing. Working with the NYMT made up a lot of my teenage years – and some of the best times of my life to date. There was always professionalism but also a lot of fun… I had a lot of fun on and off stage. Must have been great because I’m still working as an actor now because of it.

You are currently starring in Ghost the Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre. What’s it like to be part of such a massive production?
At times quite hard to believe. I do forget about its magnitude, until I’m reminded of it through friends, members of the public or walking into HMV and seeing a copy of the cast recording and knowing that I’ve been lucky to be a part of that. The best part is being involved in an original cast. Actors are often being presented with roles that have been played/staged by someone else. Yet, to be the first one to do it, to be involved in such a creative process, is a blessing.

Please describe your character – the “Subway Ghost” to someone who has not seen the musical.
The character is somewhat of a poltergeist I guess, in the sense that firstly he’s a ghost and secondly, he can move things – sometimes causing trouble because of this. However, what makes his story interesting is that he’s been stuck in a kind of limbo which for him is the Subway and consequently, this has become his world. As to why this has happened, this is suggested through lyrical rants he makes in the show. I prefer not to give the reasons why, I have my own, but like it when enough is given to allow the audience to create their own reasons. What I think is apparent is that this is a Ghost who is struggling with his past, is in denial of something and definitely angry about something. Consequently, presenting a scene with someone who is not ready to accept a particular truth about his past.

Personally, I was impressed by the physical and emotional intensity with which you play your character. This must be draining for you as an actor. How do you prepare for your performance every day and how do you cope with such a demanding role?
The physical and emotional choices were/are given their justification through character research and preparation, which makes one confident as to why a choice or a movement is being made. In other words, if I do not know why I am doing or saying something it can just become (at least for me) pretentious and just interesting for the sake of it – rather than serving the story. No one else needs to ever see this (the preparation) – it is just for me. So, firstly, knowing this gives me confidence when I have to do this everyday – due to the fact that, when a job like this is repetitive, it’s easy to forget why I am doing X Y or Z, thus, doubt can slip in and the performance may potentially become a cliché. I was told at drama school that one should do whatever is needed before coming onto the stage to be emotionally prepared – and depending on the genre of the piece, this differs. In this case, I’ve found that listening to music is very energising for this role before coming on – so I like to do that. Going to the gym and keeping fit also helps the breathing/stamina.

What’s your favourite Ghost song?
If I had to choose one it would be mine (just joking)… seriously, Nothing Stops Another Day. Not only because Caissie sounds absolutely beautiful singing it, but musically I think it’s great. The music for that song… never get tired of listening to it. I like the choreography for it too.

A lot of people have seen the film. Why should everyone go and see Ghost the Musical?
Because I think it is doing something – visually – that theatre has not seen. Especially within the genre of Musical Theatre, it celebrates a lot of artistic styles that are not commonly seen in musicals. If a theatrical production is ‘arrogant’ enough to translate a story like Ghost from the medium of film (which has certain visual advantages over the stage) it is worth seeing how the stage seeks to translate this.

What other roles would you like to play and why (in any musical/play)?
I used to have a list but now, simply something that excites and challenges me. Cannot say, as I’m finding that my interests are always evolving.

Who would you really like to work with?
The list is long, there are certain film directors that will always be on the list: Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant – to name a few.

What is something embarrassing or unexpected that happened to you on stage?
Again, the list is long but you just forget about it and carry on. I mean, I’ve slipped over – comically – centre stage… more than once…

If you could go and see any West End show tonight, which one would it be and why?
Apart from Ghost, only because we never get to see what we are apart of – so I really want to see it, I would say Jerusalem… guess because there is a healthy buzz about it and it has come from a theatre that I respect (The Royal Court).

With a lot of musicals having to close early in the West End due to a lack of ‘bums on seats’ recently, bigger musical productions that are based on people’s favourite songs or on films have received some criticism in theatre circles. As a playwright yourself but also as an actor, what’s your take on this?
This is an ongoing debate/discussion. Simply put, theatre is between the actor and the audience – so in one sense one could argue that the audience decide what is ‘good’ theatre. Because I believe the criticisms tend to be about film to stage shows or tribute shows not being ‘art’ or have weak stories etc. The problem with this debate is that ‘art’ is very much a subjective thing. Therefore, for me, I think what is important is that if a tribute show/concert or screen to stage production is being done, let it be done well. So, give it a reason for being there in that form and make the reason impressive.
When it comes to art, critics do not want to think that money is the sole purpose but that some other aesthetic philosophy is being served, otherwise what is the point? As a writer, and actor I personally want to see something that connects me as a human being, provokes or inspires. Yet not everyone else wants this… it is a long discussion.

You are the founder of Ex Nihilo Theatre Group and have written and directed your own play (In Bed, The Studio, Questors Theatre, Ealing, 2009). Please tell us about this experience.
To date, one of the best experiences in my life. So much joy, to sit in a theatre and watch people/strangers react to something that was once private to you but you are now sharing through the medium of the stage. Because of this, I think if anyone has an urgency to write, to always write and not give up but keep at it.

Are you planning to write more plays? Or musicals (as you are a musician as well)?
I am currently doing rewrites for In Bed, and working on a new piece. I would also love to do a musical. When I have something to say musically I think is when it will happen. Although, I have one piece that has Jazz compositions in it – so in one sense it is a musical, but not in the traditional sense.

You appeared in “Death of a Princess” (Channel Four). Would you like to do more TV work?
That’s the plan. Guess I’m working my way towards it.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Read, write, Red wine … lots of things – I guess what everyone likes to do…

And anything else you might like to add, maybe a message to your fans?
Don’t know if I have fans, but, thank you to everyone and anyone who has had a part to play in what I do. I’m very blessed and fortunate.

Thank you very much for this fantastic interview and all the best for your future projects!

Photo of Adebayo Bolaji by Alan Mehdizadeh
Follow Adebayo on Twitter: @AdebayoBolaji
Interview by Sandra Palme (Twitter: @LondonTheatre2)

Updated 11th October 2014