Ashley Zhangazha’s career has seen him take on roles from Shakespeare to Miller, but it’s his latest role as Ike Turner in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical which may be his most challenging to date.  Earlier this month Ashley took over the role from Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who picked up an Olivier Award for his portrayal of the real-life figure, who in his lifetime, drew both admiration and condemnation.

Ashley Zhangazha was born and bred in North London, and knew from a young age he wanted to be an actor, appearing in Oliver in the West End and taking on roles in television instilled in him a passion for performing, but unusually Ashley didn’t go straight to drama school. “I was quite academic at school and I was interested in learning” says Ashley, “I wanted to empower myself, I was interested in society and how society works, so I went to university and did an economics and politics degree.”

l r Nkeki Obi Melekwe Tina Turner Ashley Zhangazha Ike Turner photograph Craig Sugden
Nkeki Obi Melekwe and Ashley Zhangazha c. Craig Sugden

Still that passion for performing persisted, and after university Ashley enrolled at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, “I always knew I wanted to be an actor, I just had to convince myself there was a place for me in the industry, so I went to drama school and I thought, I think I can do this.”

That degree didn’t go to waste though, explains Ashley, “It’s interesting, I think it has encouraged me to be quite analytical in the way I approach roles, I’m quite big on research, getting as much background information on them as I can, my degree has helped me to be able to do that.”

Playing someone so famous meant that there was plenty of material available for Ashley to explore, “it’s fantastic to play someone who was a real-life figure, I’ve been able to read his autobiography, Takin’ Back My Name, which is a pretty wild ride in to Ike’s mind, and the complexity of him.  There was so much online too, plus I read Tina’s autobiographies, and married it all together.”

Inevitably, all of Ashley’s research led him to confront uncomfortable truths about the character he was about to take on, “Finding out about Ike’s background, and some of the abuse he suffered when he was younger helps me to understand him more as a human being.  He inflicted terrible abuse on Tina and did unspeakable things, my job as an actor is to try and understand in some way where he’s come from to become the man he became.”

Nkeki Obi Melekwe Tina Turner Ashley Zhangazha Ike Turner photo Craig Sugden
Nkeki Obi Melekwe and Ashley Zhangazha c. Craig Sugden

Ashley is also mindful of the way the character has been portrayed before, “Laurence Fishburne was amazing in What’s Love Got To Do With It, and of course, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who is a wonderful actor, and a real gentleman, did great things with this role. What’s been so good is that during the rehearsal process, all the creative team said to me ‘feel free to create your version of this man’, so I was able to come in thinking how do I approach this material. Also, we know the show works brilliantly because the previous cast have left a great legacy, but during rehearsals we’ve been encouraged to find the story afresh.”

Seeing the show last year was an inspiration to Ashley, “I saw the show and loved it, and it was then I thought this is something I need to be in, partly because of Katori Hall’s book, it’s brilliantly written, people have described it as having light and shade, there’s no shying away from some of the darker aspects of the character, but I think it’s handled very well, and I think the journey of the story is handled very tastefully.”

“It’s a wonderful challenge for me as an actor, and I’ve looked at it in that sense, this is a complex character to play and one that will test me. In some respects, this is the most challenging role I’ve had to play, but I hope I can say that about my next role too.”

After weeks of rehearsal, Ashley found it exhilarating to perform the show to an audience for the first time, “It was a workout!  It demands so much energy, and it went past in a flash, it was such a rush, and all worth it when you hear the audience reaction.”

“It helped starting at the same time as Nkeki Obi-Melekwe (Tina), we built a great bond during rehearsals and we get on really well, so we definitely have each other’s backs on stage.”

The Company Tina The Tina Turner Musical photo Craig Sugden
The Company Tina The Tina Turner Musical photo Craig Sugden

Ashley says that he listens to a special playlist before each performance, “I listen to music from the era, that really helps me before each show, that’s something I’ve done throughout my career because I think that music is a really good mechanism to help my brain get in to the zone of where I’m going to be for the next two and half hours.”

And surely that playlist must contain some songs from Tina Turner? “Absolutely! I particularly like ‘I Want to Take You Higher’ and ‘Private Dancer’. What’s been so brilliant about this whole process has been learning about the legacy that Tina has left in the industry, I was a fan before, but now I’m a certified Tina fanatic.”

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is currently taking bookings at the Aldwych Theatre to 11th January 2020.  Box Office: 0845 200 7981, Website: www.tinathemusical.com

Book Tina – The Tina Turner Musical Tickets

Main Image Credit: Craig Sugden

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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