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Q&A: Sara Kestelman

Published 5 June 2014

There aren’t many actresses who can say they’ve put words into the mouth of a former Jedi Master and won an Olivier Award. One actress who can is Sara Kestelman. The voice of Kreia in Star Wars video game Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and a recipient of one of London theatre’s most prestigious accolades for her performance as Fräulein Schneider in Cabaret, Kestelman’s career to date certainly hasn’t lacked variety.

The performer’s next challenge only adds to the diversity of her roles, starring in Jemma Kennedy’s adaptation of The Summer Book for children aged six and older at the Unicorn Theatre from 7 to 29 June.

Moomin creator Tove Jansson’s tale about a young girl and the relationship she shares with her grandmother during the summers they spend on a remote Finnish island may not be the most cheerful choice for a family production, dealing with issues surrounding death. But, as Kestelman reveals in our Q&A, it’s a treat for young imaginations and offers an insight into what it’s like to grow older, face loss and find hope in unfortunate circumstances.

To counteract this ever so slightly morbid theme, and because we’re looking forward to what will surely be a constant heatwave for the next few months, we couldn’t resist asking the Olivier Award winner about what she loves about summer to boot.

What are you most looking forward to about performing in The Summer Book?

Creating a completely invented and imaginative world.

The story is about a grandmother’s relationship with her granddaughter. Do you have a particularly special bond with a member of your family?

My Godson.

Tove Jansson’s book was actually written for adults. What do you think young audiences will take from the production?

Adventure and the joy of imagination. The excitement of moving through the seasons and the elements. Being introduced to two very original people and discovering, through this relationship, something about the mystery of how we communicate with each other, growing older and facing loss, and finding hope and trust.

The story deals with some adult themes. How does the production convey these to children?

Death is identified through wildlife: animals in nature and the changing seasons with the dying and rebirth of plants.

Are you anything like your character in real life?

I am creative, independent and a good listener.

What’s the best thing about performing in front of a young audience?

Engaging their imagination and curiosity.

What first sparked your interest in performing?

Being taken to theatre, concerts, ballet and art exhibitions as a child.

What’s your favourite summer meal?

A perfectly cooked Ratatouille. It reminds me of meals in France with close friends and family, and brings back special memories.

The Summer Book is all about summer adventures. What’s your favourite summer holiday destination?

The south of France, where I spent many summers as a child with my parents, where I have dear friends and where my parents’ ashes are buried beneath an ancient olive tree.

What book would you recommend as a great holiday read?

Anything by Rose Tremain, who is such a superb storyteller.

Picnic or BBQ?

More fun to prepare a picnic and pack the car and go on an adventure.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?

A knife.

What film would you watch on a rainy summer’s day?

Jules Et Jim.

What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?

My wonderful cat, Murphy!

In 1994 you were awarded an Olivier Award. What did that mean to you?

[It was] a huge honour and the most wonderful surprise.

You’ve performed in a number of Shakespeare productions throughout your career. The Unicorn Theatre has a reputation for staging Shakespeare for young audiences. How important do you think it is that children are introduced to the Bard’s work from a young age?

Invaluable! The stories and characters are so rich and wonderful.

How important do you think it is for children to go to the theatre?

Immensely important. All entertainment, all art, whether visual or performance, drama or light entertainment, the classics or musical theatre, plays, music, dance opera, each will offer enrichment, insight and inspiration that will resonate, echo and touch. Without these powerful influences and parallels, and without the unique shared experience of sitting in an audience in a darkened theatre with our imaginations suspended and our emotions engaged, our world would be bleak and barren. It is vital to take children to the theatre!

What’s the best experience you’ve ever had on stage?

Appearing as dancer/actor/writer/singer in IGNIS, a devised dance piece choreographed by Hubert Essakow at The Print Room using my text – poems and songs.

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?

A choreographer.

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