CASTING directors for a new Oran Mor play set in Africa wouldn’t have realised just how much valuable life experience Nick Ikunda would bring to the role.

Lion Lion tells the story of George and Joy Adamson, (played by Keith Fleming and Selina Boyack) the British couple who captivated the world with their big cat African exploits.

Joy Adamson wrote the bestseller Born Free, about the raising and release into the wild of a young lion, which became a hugely successful film.

But while Adamson sold big cats and compassion for vulnerable beasts to the world the reality was she was a tyrant when it came to humans.

The wildlife wonder often tortured her servants, at times firing live ammunition at them.

The woman who loved African animals wasn’t so fond of certain members of the human race, in particular black Africans.

Glasgow-based Ikunda, he reveals, grew up in the war-torn Congo where he was “tortured” at school.

So it’s fair to say the actor, who plays servant Makkede in the new play by Sue Glover, knows a great deal about persecution. First, he explains the premise of the play.

“While the outside world saw the Adamsons as the caring couple who looked after lions, treated them like children, their personal reality was very different.

“The marriage was in deep trouble. And my character is one of the few who knew about the tug of war marriage these two were enduring.”

Joy Adamson, was a “cold, unforgiving monster” who attacked people and had a series of affairs.

Yet George Adamson, for so many years, came up with reasons to defend her. “I think Joy often behaved like an distrusting, wounded animal,” says Ikunda.

“Meanwhile, George tried to hold onto the good memories.”

Nick Ikunda, who studied drama at Paisley’s Reid Kerr College, had to leave the Congo in 1998 period when civil war took hold and rebel forces were set to wreak havoc on the capital Kinshasa.

“There was killing to the point of devastation.”

His mother, a trader, and his father, an agency worker, seized upon the fact his grandmother had a Portuguese passport. The family, with five children, fled to Lisbon - and on to London.

Ikunda grew up in North London. “I arrived when I was 12 and couldn’t speak a word of English. I effectively became a mute. But later I discovered some other children from the Congo, whom I could speak to in my native language and in French, given we had been colonised by Belgium.”

Yet, speaking French brought back difficult memories. “Teachers would beat us to speak better French,” he recalls.

“We were belted, or hit with sticks. Some would put pencils between our fingers and then squeeze our hands hard.”

He offers a wry smile. “Looking back I realised I was being tortured.”

Ikunda, who has an Africa-sized personality and equal amounts of charisma, had long loved acting, but when he declared he wanted to act professionally his parents pressured him to leave London and come to Glasgow. Was it related to the tragic knife violence and teenage crime we hear so much of in London today? “Yes it was,” he says in soft, sad voice.

“But I’m glad I left London. To be honest, had I stayed I don’t know how my life would have turned out. Friends have ended up in jail or dying.” He reflects; “Wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ikunda, who is writing a screenplay about the moment, loves life here now, living in Pollokshaws.

Acting however is a “tough industry.

“You have to love what you do.” He adds, smiling; “I’m a bit like George Adamson in that sense. You have to take the good with the bad.”

Lion Lion, Oran Mor, until Saturday.