Continuing stage adventures of the girl who met the Queen!

Funmi Ajayi is relishing the challenge of playing someone who is so unlike her in character – the Cat in Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s production of Pinocchio this Christmas (December 16-January 2).

Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 10:00 am
Funmi Ajayi in rehearsal for Pinocchio 2020 Photo (C) Richard Gibbons
Funmi Ajayi in rehearsal for Pinocchio 2020 Photo (C) Richard Gibbons

“The cat is quite slow. I would not say that she is dumb, but she does not pick up on things as quickly as she could.

“She tends to follow the fox and forgets lots of things.

“So it is a bit strange playing someone who is so opposite to me.

“I would not say she is socially intelligent. We are just not on the same wavelength.

“With me and the cat being so different, I feel that I have to tap into a younger version of myself to bring that forward… because you have got to find something that is truthful for you.”

Funmi, a student at Bishop Luffa, brings to the show a high degree of experience with Chichester Festival Youth Theatre.

“I did my first show with the youth theatre in 2016. It was Peter Pan and I was one of the Indian braves. I was one of the little dancers. I was the littlest dancer! I was 12 and everyone else was 14 to 18.

“I was there at the back, but I had the best time. I had never really considered acting or singing before, but I had danced before, and I think having a role that was really heavy on dance was really good for me to get me going. It was something that I was comfortable with in front of a lot of people.

“It was the best role they could have given me.

“I had never acted before or sung before outside a choir setting in primary school.”

Funmi has had a great time with the youth theatre ever since, some great experiences.

It’s far too difficult to say which shows she has enjoyed the most because they have all been so different.

“Peter Pan was one of the most significant because it was the first one for me. I hadn’t even seen a show in a theatre before. I was performing but I had not actually watched anything on stage before – which is the other way round to usual!

“But I loved The Wizard Of Oz. It was the busiest show I have been in.”

She had to learn 12 different dances as a jitterbug and fill in whenever anyone fell ill – all in addition to her other duties in the show.

“I was one of the trees, and I think playing a tree was one of the most exposing parts I have ever done because it involved singing harmonies, and I am still not that big a singer.

“I am still not very sure if I enjoy singing yet. I am not sure I am very used to it.”

But it isn’t just the performance opportunities which the youth theatre have given her which stand out. Through the youth theatre, Funmi got the chance to meet the Queen on her visit to the CFT.

“She was really nice, and it wasn’t too intimidating. She was making jokes. It was really strange. It wasn’t what I was expecting!

“She came out and made a joke about it being cold and the fact that we had been waiting for such a long time. It was really funny. It was the last thing we expected!

“It was such a shock to me. I was chosen (to meet her) a few days before. We were in the rehearsal room and (youth theatre director) Dale (Rooks) just said my name. I had to learn how to curtsy and what not to say.

“There weren’t too many rules. But it was great. She is the most famous person I have met so far!”

The show comes in a new adaptation by Anna Ledwich with music by Tom Brady from the original novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.

Anna’s previous work at Chichester includes The Butterfly Lion (2019), Crossing Lines (2019) and Beauty and the Beast (2018).

Dale Rooks’ previous work at the CFT includes The Butterfly Lion, The Midnight Gang and Running Wild.

Tickets from the theatre.