Actor Ashley returns to Sheffield theatre where he found success

A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Hansberry,        , Writer - Lorraine Hansberry, Director - Dawn Walton, Designer - Amanda Stoodley, Lighting - Aideen Malone, Sheffield Theatres, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/
A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Hansberry, , Writer - Lorraine Hansberry, Director - Dawn Walton, Designer - Amanda Stoodley, Lighting - Aideen Malone, Sheffield Theatres, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/

Actor Ashley Zhangazha is thrilled to be back in Sheffield at the theatre that boosted his career to star in the play A Raisin in the Sun.

Ashley, who won an award for his last performance at the Crucible, plays Walter Lee Younger, who live with his mother, wife, son and sister in 1950s Chicago.

When his father dies and leaves his mother a windfall, Walter wants to use the money to start a liquor store business.

Ashley said: “He subscribes to the American dream. He wants to be an entrepreneur and get involved in big business. There’s different things that family members want to do with this money.”

Their mother is determined to buy a home but white residents try to buy the family off, which increases tensions.

Ashley said: “I knew about the film with Sidney Poitier in the early 1960s and I knew about the play. I’m excited about doing it now.

“I’m confident we’ll be introducing people to one of the best plays of all time.”

He feels similarities with his character. “Walter is a young man and I’m a young man. He has aspirations and ambitions in his life and so do I.

“The difference is he wants to go off and be a businessman. I want to get further in my career. I understand the idea of being ambitious and wanting to achieve goals.”

However, life was tough then for an ambitious young black man: “Men like Walter were not getting the same opportunities and he was feeling frustrated by that. How does he battle the very system that wants to suppress everything he has the right to achieve?

“It’s got a hell of a lot better now but there are still loads of inequalities in the US, some hidden under the surface.

“They have a black president in America but you still find situations like Ferguson and incidents of police officers targeting young black men.”

However, the play isn’t just about racial tensions, he said.

“It’s essentially a family drama and the conflict that happens. Some want one thing and some another.

“Anyone watching it could think that’s like me and my mother, brother or sister with intense squabbles and a great deal of love. ”

Ashley won the 2013 Ian Charleson Award for his performance of the role of Ross in Macbeth at the Crucible.

Since then, he has starred with Lenny Henry in Fences, appeared with Jude Law in Henry V and with Maxine Peake in Hamlet.

Ashley said of his famous co-stars: “They all have an amazing work ethic. I now understand why they’ve all got to where they’ve got to.”

A Raisin in the Sun is at the Crucible Studio until February 13. Box office: 0114 249 6000 or www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk