TBB TALKS … The Seagull with Sara Powell

The Jamie Lloyd Company’s production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull stars an amazing cast …

Loved for her roles playing Sally Reid in London’s Burning and Rachel Barker in Holby Blue, over the course of her career, Sara Powell has played many iconic parts – not least Mary Seacole in the recent series of Doctor Who. Alongside working in TV, Powell has also starred in multiple stage roles across the National Theatre, Almeida, Donmar Warehouse and more.

This summer, Powell stars alongside Emilia Clarke and Indira Varma in a new version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, written by Anya Reiss and directed by Jamie Lloyd. We spoke to Sara to find out more about her role-playing the part of Polina…

Please introduce yourself

Sara Powell. Jamaican abroad. I wave my hands about in the evenings. 

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.

Dinner’s in the oven.  Eat it together at the table – not in front of the TV.  Has anyone fed the dog?

So, you were born in Jamaica, but have been working across English theatres and TV shows since the early ‘90s – can you tell us a bit about this journey? For example, at what age did you know you wanted to be an actress?

My brother and I used to make up shows and force my father and any guests he brought home to
watch them. My brother grew out of it. I didn’t. 

Sara Powell as Mary Seacole in Doctor Who – Image Credit: BBC

Looking back at your career so far, are there any roles or projects that stand out as particular high points? I know my particular favourite was seeing you play Mary Seacole in Doctor Who.

 I loved playing Mary Seacole.  

In recent years, you’ve also started voice-acting in video games. How does this work compare to your theatre and TV acting? And do you ever play the video games you voice-act for?

Voicing video games is great – you rock up looking like an old sack and people encourage you to do silly voices all day.  I don’t play video games – my son thinks my job means I should get free copies of the ones I voice so he can play them. We’re working on it. 

Okay, so let’s talk about The Seagull. You’re playing the part of Polina in a new version of this play, written by Anya Reiss. Can you give a taster of how Reiss’ adaptation differs from Chekhov’s original play?

Anya’s version is radically different to any Chekov you will have seen before.  It is witty and moving. Audiences are really engaged and loving it.  

And tell us a bit about your character Polina. Who is she? Do you see any similarities between yourself and Polina?

I loved the version of Polina that Anya has written as soon as I read it. Slightly outside, trying and failing to find a way to be happy. Someone recognised me at a festival the other day because I was wearing sandals. We are all barefoot in the play. She recognised my feet. Literally, pointed at my feet and said “I recognised you from …”  So we have that in common. Still processing that one.

The Seagull. Mika Onyx Johnson, Sophie Wu, Sara Powell, Gerald Kyd, Emilia Clarke & Jason Barnett. Credit – Marc Brenner

The Seagull opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre on June 29th – what’s it been like returning to the stage after the pandemic-induced period of closure?

The pandemic was brutal for our industry. It’s great to be back. Really, really great. 

And what’s it been like working with The Jamie Lloyd Company and such a fantastic cast? Is there anything you’ve learned while working on this production that you’ll embed into your craft going forward?

I’ve wanted to work with Jamie for a while. Who hasn’t?  So I’m feeling very lucky and hoping he’ll ask me again.  

Have you got any other projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?

Eating dinner at home.  At the table. 

GETTING TO KNOW YOU …

  • A book you have to have in your collection? What Mothers Do, Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. By Naomi Stadlen. 
  • A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? The mix tape my husband made me when we first met. He really needs to update that. 
  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Atlanta – Donald Glover in anything will do. I watch the video for “This Is America” quite regularly.
  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? Bubbling Brown Sugar.    
  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Emilia made me a birthday cake.  We ate loads in the interval in Indira’s dressing room then all sat stuffed on stage for the second half. Sad, mad and glad.

The Seagull plays at the Harold Pinter Theatre until Saturday 10th September. Book tickets and find out more here.

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