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20 Questions with... Sirine Saba

Actress Sirine Saba – who stars in two Shakespeares, The Taming of the Shrew & A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the Open Air Theatre this summer - talks about her RSC grounding, Sarah Jessica Parker’s wardrobe & Regent's Park's tasty delights

By • West End


In the 2005 summer season at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, actress Sirine Saba played Olivia in Timothy Sheader’s production of Twelfth Night and Desmond Barrit’s ardent first cousin in Ian Talbot’s revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.

Her work for the RSC includes Beauty and the Beast, Midnight's Children, Pericles, The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, A Midsummer Night's Dream, A Warwickshire Testimony, Tales from Ovid (a co-production with the Young Vic), Soho, The World’s Wife and Cabaret.

For the National, Saba has appeared in Our Town, Sparkleshark and Pillars of the Community. Elsewhere, her stage credits include Cinderella, House and Garden, Paper Husband and The King and I.

On screen, Saba has been seen in Silent Witness, Footballers’ Wives and The Bill on television; and Dos and Don’ts, Prometheus and Death of the Revolution on film.

This summer, Saba has returned for her second consecutive summer season at Regent’s Park, where she stars as fairy queen Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Ian Talbot, and as the titular shrew Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Rachel Kavanagh.


Date & place of birth
Born 1 April 1975 in Beirut.

Lives now in
London, Marylebone. I’ve been there 13 years. I grew up in Cyprus.

Training
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

What made you want to become an actor?
Nothing specific. Just as far back as I can remember, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and all I’ve done in my spare time, from school plays to using the plastic covering of my Wendy House. I think what appeals is the freedom, the creativity. And you learn a lot about yourself by playing other people. It’s a very social job. And it’s the joy of doing something you always said you’d do which makes it so great.

First big break
I left RADA without an agent and did a couple of tiny fringe shows and then I got a job playing some lovely parts at the RSC six months after I graduated. I think that’s the first thing I was really proud to be part of.

Career highlights to date
That first season at the RSC playing Miranda in The Tempest, and playing an ugly sister in Rodger and Hammerstein’s version of Cinderella at the Bristol Old Vic. That was so much fun.

Favourite productions you’ve ever worked on
The Cinderella job because I don’t do musicals often and I just loved doing that job.

Favourite directors
Michael Boyd. He is the most innovative man I’ve ever worked with. He finds things in the text and uses them to create a very special and individual and unusual world for the play. His work is very distinctive and special.

Favourite co-stars
Daniele Coombe who was the other sister in Cinderella.

Favourite playwrights or musical writers
Rodgers and Hammerstein for musicals. And I have to say Shakespeare because I’ve done more Shakespeare than anything else! I also love Tennessee Williams.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I wanted to be a tennis player and then later I wanted to be a gladiator! I’m not very sporty at all, but that’s just what I decided to do when I was a kid.

What was the last stage production that had a big impact on you? And the first?
The recent RSC production of The Crucible, that was incredible. I think the first I remember seeing was Me and My Girl. Even though we lived in Cyprus, my Dad brought us over to see the shows sometimes. I thought it was fantastic, I was completely impressed. We carried on from then with Cats and all the big musicals. Although now I wouldn’t necessarily go to a West End musical, as a tourist when you live abroad that’s immediately what you go and see.

What roles would you most like to play still?
Cleopatra because I feel close to her. I suppose I understand her very well, I always have, so it would be wonderful to play that role.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I would swap places with Sarah Jessica Parker for her wardrobe and I think it would be incredible to be married to Matthew Broderick.

Favourite books
Wuthering Heights and Holes by Louis Sachar.

Favourite holiday destinations
Morocco, Tokyo and Cape Town. I went back to Cyprus last summer to do some adjudicating on the NT Connections programme. I’ve got friends who still live there but I very rarely go back now.

What made you want to accept your roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream & The Taming of the Shrew?
I had already worked at the park last year in Twelfth Night and HMS Pinafore. I also live five minutes from the theatre so it’s just a joy not to have to take public transport. It’s lovely being out in the fresh air in the summer in the park and it’s so beautiful, it’s like a fairytale. I don’t have a favourite of the two characters I play, but I’d say Kate is more psychologically complex. I like them both for different reasons. Kate has a very slow, steady journey whereas Titania has a whirlwind few scenes where an incredible amount happens to her. Kate is more challenging because she is so psychologically detailed, so precise, whereas Titania’s journey is broader.

Having worked extensively at the RSC & at Regent’s Park, you must be familiar with rep work. How do you cope with rehearsing & performing two (or more!) plays at the same time?
That’s absolutely fine, we just do it. We learn and rehearse both and just play them. Any actor will tell you it’s not a problem to learn two roles - it’s great fun! It dilutes what could become incredibly intense doing the same part all summer and it’s lovely to have a bit of variation.

What do you enjoy most about working at the Open Air Theatre?
Everybody that works here. The staff are lovely and Ian the artistic director is an angel. All the directors are fantastic and it’s a wonderful place. Equally importantly for me, the food is incredible! And if we’ve got two shows, we can lie on the grass in between performances. It can be a bit of a pain when it rains. When the show’s cancelled, it can be disappointing, but if it’s hammering it down, there’s nothing you can do. I don’t enjoy performing in the rain - although people do say there’s a sense of camaraderie. For the final performance of Pinafore last year it was raining, but because it was the final one, we all carried on and the audience sat there. We all just saw it through to the end and that was amazing. We got a huge standing ovation, which was lovely, we were very much a unit.

What’s the funniest/oddest thing that’s happened in rehearsals or performances to date?
A member of the company, a fabulous gentleman called Michael Medwin, has to say the words “come here you crack hemp”. In one rehearsal he said “crack head” instead by mistake and it made us laugh - he said it with such venom! And now it’s difficult to keep a straight face in that scene.

What are your future plans?
I got married mid-season so we’re going away on a honeymoon next week. Then in September we might go off on another little journey because we’ve not really seen each other since the wedding!

- Sirine Saba was speaking to Caroline Ansdell


A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew run at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, in rep until 30 August and 2 September 2006 respectively.


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