Rachel Adedeji Talks … ‘Passing Strange’

Rachel Adedeji returns to the stage for the first time in 10 years …

After recently starring as Funmi in the BAFTA winning series Dreaming Whilst Black, she is also known for PBS/Channel 4’s Alice & Jack and BBC/Netflix’s Champion.

Rachel was an X Factor finalist in 2009 before starring in Thriller Live! (West End & UK tour) and Jesus Christ Superstar (UK Tour) and went on to play series regular Lisa Loveday in Hollyoaks until 2020.

We spoke to Rachel about her latest role in the Tony Award-winning musical Passing Strange and her journey from X Factor to now …

Please introduce yourself …

I’m Rachel Adedeji and I am of Nigerian descent born and raised in East London. Singer, actor, mother.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …

Clarity.

You discovered you could sing and act when?

When I was in year four at school I had a teacher who could hear my voice during a group sing and that teacher told my parents to put me into Stagecoach and that was it for me and since then it’s just been non-stop singing and dancing and acting.

What is ‘Passing Strange‘ about from your perspective?

I would say it’s about a young black man from Los Angeles, who is struggling to find himself and fit in so chooses to travel across Europe to get a sense of who he is but does it through the love of art. Growing up in a background where he wasn’t really seen or heard, he definitely tried to find that through the people he met through his journey of self-discovery, but he still somewhat felt alone. A lot of learning and unlearning took place in order to find the answer he was looking for.

Rachel Adedeji (2nd left) and the company of Passing Strange at Young Vic. (c) Marc Brenner

And your character ‘Mother‘, what are her hopes, dreams, goals and position in this musical?

I would say Mother is the anchor in the show. She has a really wonderful relationship with her son and almost wants to mollycoddle him and keep him on the right path in life, however struggles to understand why he would want to stay away from home, although deep down she knows that he must find himself through his journey, as she never quite got to do that herself.

How did you get to know and understand your character? Did being a mother help you portray her better?

To be honest, I fell in love with this character as soon as I read the script and I think being a mother definitely helps but more importantly, it was easy for me because of the relationship I have with my own mother and knowing that sometimes it’s really hard to let your kids go, but then you understand the importance of allowing your kids to live their own life once you bring them into this world.

Rachel Adedeji in ‘Passing Strange’ @ Young Vic. (c) Marc Brenner

Tell us about the music and the impact it has on the production …

The music in this show is probably the first thing that I fell in love with, as soon as I heard the soundtrack I was like I want to be part of this. It’s something special. There’s nothing I love more than well-produced and well-written, thought-out tracks, especially through the art of storytelling.

What’s your favourite song from the show?

I have so many songs I love from this show it’s impossible to choose a fave. I love Keys, I love Arlington Hill, I love Work the Wound. So many. All of them really.

You are best known for playing Lisa Loveday in ‘Hollyoaks‘ and more recently Yemi in ‘Champion‘ and Funmi in ‘Dreaming Whilst Black‘. Considering your career evolution, where does this project sit on your checklist?

It’s so up there for me. The best theatre production I have worked on and probably ever will. There’s something about this piece that has my heart, the storytelling alone, and not only via stage but also personally. It’s helped me a lot! I feel like I connected with it so well and what an honour working at the Young Vic Theatre where a lot of other people, especially black people can really connect with this show. So yes, it is a huge career move for me. Not only the need to showcase that I’m able to do screen and stage but also just the ability to work on something so spectacular with amazing creatives – working with Liesl Tommy (director) and Brandon Michael Nase (musical supervisor) has been life-changing for me.

Demmy Ladipo as Maurice and Rachel Adedeji as Funmi in Dreaming Whilst Black

Reflecting on your journey thus far, what’s been the biggest eye-opener/learning curve that has helped you navigate the industry?

For me it’s to go with your instinct, never doubt yourself because your gut really speaks volumes about the direction that you should go in whether that’s the right or wrong choice. I use my gut instinct to help me navigate through this industry, it is great to tap into it because I learn so much about myself and continue to do so. Your gut never lies, and you know what is best.

Highs, lows, solutions …

It was getting the job that was a huge high for me because I loved the project so much and I hadn’t been on stage in 10 years so in getting this I was really happy that I’m still able to do it but then, of course, there’s an obstacle there which is doubt and fear, but it’s been overcome just by believing myself and going with it and every night I’m actually honoured to play on stage as mother among the most amazing cast of people that I’m working with. Such an achievement

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

What’s your current plan B? Never plan B. Always A for me.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week? Sad, that the show is nearly coming to an end. Mad, my kitchen sink getting blocked. Glad that my best friend is coming to NYC with me this summer.

What are you watching right now? A show called Somebody Somewhere, Insecure, and Twenties.

What are you reading right now? Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and The Third Perspective: A transformative guide to brave communication for the modern world by Africa Brooke.

What are you listening to right now? Anything Alex Isley.

The last thing you saw on stage? My Neighbour Totoro. Phenomenal.

What’s on your bucket list? Do a nice series filming in either, ATL, NYC or LA.

Where’s your happy place? My house.

Celebrate someone else … So proud of my sister Sandra for opening her own flower shop. It’s not easy. She makes all her dreams a reality. It’s inspiring.

Celebrate yourself … I’m so proud of myself for all of my achievements, whether that’s career moves or getting through childbirth, buying my house, even something as simple as perfecting my pancakes and banana bread skills haha. I saw a post the other day that said don’t be so hard on yourself you’re living your childhood dreams. And it was just a reminder that I’m right where I need to be! I’ve worked so hard.

Whose footsteps are you following in? Growing up I was in awe of people like Céline Dion, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, my parents, my siblings … Also there are a variety of actors I looked up to, so it’s nice to know that I’ve taken so many examples of these people and I’ve just put them into my own life and each day it continues, because I meet people along the way who are extremely life changing and I aspire to be just like that.

What’s Next? Season 2 of Dreaming Whilst Black.

Where can we find you? @RachelAdedeji on Insta.

Where can we see you next? Whilst I’m doing this show, I’m also currently voicing a kids animation TV series commissioned by Milkshake/Channel 5, so hopefully you’ll be able to see that soon.


Passing Strange runs from 14th May – 6th July at The Young Vic.

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