Eric Kofi Abrefa in rehearsals for 'A Taste of Honey'. Photo Credit - Marc Brenner
A new year has begun and for Eric Kofi Abrefa, 2014 is set to start with a theatrical bang. Having appeared in last year’s sensational Amen Corner, Abrefa has returned to the National to play Jimmie in A Taste of Honey. Since graduating in July 2012, the Stockwell native has already cranked up an impressive CV with jobs in film, TV and of course theatre. I find Abrefa incredibly chatty, with all the wit and quick intonation of a young urbanite. His astute powers of observation and keen social insights however, are rather exceptional. As we discuss his upcoming role the actor assures me that his character is sincere, and that appearances can so often be deceptive.
How would you describe A Taste of Honey?
It’s essentially a play about a mother and daughter and their relationship. The character that I play, Jimmie, is a love interest of the daughter, Jo. They plan to get married and they love each other, but he has to go to work and he ends up getting her pregnant. In the play he doesn’t come back. But listen, Gillian, I really he comes back at the end. Later on, after the time that the play covers. He’s got to, the love is too genuine.
So if you believe that he does come back, what sort of a person is your character?
He’s warm; he was a male nurse before he joins the navy. There’s a scene where Jo’s not feeling well and he makes her a drink, checks her temperature and he takes care of her and it’s all genuine. They want to be together, it’s just circumstances. Obviously if you’re a sailor you can be away at sea for a long while. One of my uncles worked in the merchant navy and could be away for months. I believe it’s work that keeps him away; not gallivanting around town with so many women. I believe he’s a good person.
The play’s set in Salford in the late fifties. Is the period specific to the production?
The play was written in 1958, so we’ve gone for the whole period look and we’ve done a lot of research into how things were during that time. It echoes and resonates everything about society at that time.
Is the Manchester location significant? Essentially, is it grim up north?
Lucian Msamati is the best male actor I have ever worked with, EVER. I just learnt so much from him and every night was different.
No. What I love about being up north, is I think as southerners we can be quite snobbish, whereas northerners can be very warm. I remember I was on a school trip to Scarborough and I asked a lady for directions and she ended up telling me what she had for breakfast, what her cat’s name was, everything! She took the time out of her day to talk to me and I really appreciated it. You don’t get that down south. It echoes through their language as well; when they speak northerners want to be heard. They stress things and get louder, whereas here we act like we’re really cool ‘Oh, you don’t need to be hearing what I’m saying right now.’
Where is Jimmie from?
It was up in the air, but I decided to make him come from Salford because of the language that Shelagh Delaney uses. I tried it in my own accent and it felt alien, just detached form the world of the play so I decided to make him from around the area.
Your last role was David in The Amen Corner. How was your experience of that production?
It was awesome, it was such a great experience. Working with people like Marianne Jean-Baptiste who was incredible. Lucian Msamati is the best male actor I have ever worked with, EVER. I just learnt so much from him and every night was different. He’s got this mischievous twinkle in his eye and it just makes the work so enjoyable.
Do you have any big aspirations for the next ten years?
Well I’d love to establish myself in terms of film and TV, so I’d love to do a bit more of that. But I just want to keep working with the best people because they bring the best out of me. I don’t want to just be satisfied with just getting an acting job; I want it to be for the love of it. For the love of it means I have to be learning from and working with the best people so I can be my best.
Would you consider the National Theatre as an example of “the best” in terms of what London has to offer?
The way I see it, I could have been on the Olivier and done a not so great play. I personally wouldn’t have then boasted about it. But having done an awesome play in The Amen Corner I can then be proud enough to say ‘Yeah I worked on the Olivier in this play.’ Don’t get me wrong; it’s a privilege to be here, especially for what the National stands for. But for me what’s most important is the quality of the piece and the people I’m working with. That’s what makes it the best.
What made you want to act?
The domestic relationship between a mother and daughter is important and brilliantly done in this play.
I was doing GCSE drama and the teachers kept telling me to audition for plays. But at the time I didn’t like the notion of being rejected. I just thought ‘I’m going to pour my heart out and you’re gonna say no and it’s gonna hurt!’ But I was asked to audition for Richard III, which was going to be part of the BBC Shakespeare Festival; a thousand schools across the UK all doing a Shakespeare play kicking off at 7pm. I went to Westminster City School in Victoria and we were gonna be at the Pleasance theatre in Islington. I was asked to audition and went for it and they said ‘We want you to play the lead.’ So that was incredible; it was probably my best experience of being on stage and I thought ‘I need to do some more of this.’
How are you with rejection now?
Ah, fine. It’s part and parcel of the job. It was just a thing of me growing up and maturing. Don’t get me wrong the little tiny boy in me, he gets a bit upset but we suppress that don’t we?
Why should people come and see this play?
It’s Valentine’s Day coming up soon and I think this hits the spot. It’s a great piece in terms of seeing women on stage and exploring the relationship between a mother and daughter. The relationship between Helen and Jo is great and it’s amazing how it comes full circle. We see a lot of fathers and sons and crowns being handed down the male line, but the domestic relationship between a mother and daughter is important and brilliantly done in this play.
Info: A Taste of Honey is at the National Theatre from 10 February 2014 | Book tickets