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Interview: Cherrelle Skeete Talks THE SEAGULL At Lyric Hammersmith

Cherrelle Skeete

Cherrelle Skeete, who originated the character of Rose Granger Weasley in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is now starring in the Lyric Hammersmith's production of The Seagull, which begins on 3 October.

What was the first piece of theatre you remember seeing?

The first piece of theatre that really changed my life was A Raisin In the Sun at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry.

When did you realise you wanted to act professionally?

I come from a dance background, so I didn't want to be an actor when I was a tiny toddler. I knew I wanted to be a performer, but I think it wasn't until I was maybe 17 that I decided I wanted to pursue acting.

Where did you train?

I trained at Central School of Speech and Drama in London. I'm originally from Birmingham.

What was your first professional acting job and what did you learn from it?

My first acting job was at the Finborough Theatre in a play called And I And Silence directed by Caitlin McLeod and written by Naomi Wallace. I got that job during my final term when I was still in drama school, so I was able to get marked on it as my final piece.

I think for me it was a great opportunity to work with experienced actors. While in drama school you're among people who are just starting out, I think it was a huge chance to learn. I really value being around people I'm able to learn from - I'm able to do so from people who are learning with me, but I think it was special that I was doing a play with people who have been in the profession for a long time. Also the fact that it was all women was wonderful.

Cherrelle Skeete in Harry Potter
and the Cursed Child

Do you have any dream roles?

Being a black woman who acts, I just want to make sure that we are represented in all shapes and forms. Ultimately, that's it. I want to have a wonderful character journey that challenges me and is able to stretch me. I'd like to take on roles that scare me a little bit too. Whatever falls in that capacity would be a dream role.

What does it mean to be represented as an actress of colour? What could we do to amplify representation in theatre?

It's the people who are at the top who are making the decisions. I don't want to see representation limited to the stage, I want to see variety in directors and people who are working behind the scenes. It's also getting access to the industry.

I don't think people realise there is space that they could take up, they think they're not entitled to it. We wait for a permission we don't need. It means that the people who are in possession of power have to put the work in and reflect what our society looks like in the artistic space, so it needs to start from the gatekeepers.

What was it like being part of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child phenomenon?

It was absolutely incredible, it's nothing that any of us had experienced before. It's one of those things I can see affecting my life down the line - I'll be somewhere and realise that something happened because of Harry Potter. The response from the fans has been the most incredible thing. I found a community of people who are so in love, so supportive, so connected. Once we shared what we'd made with the public, it was simply amazing.

Were you a fan before you were cast? Did you read the books when you were younger?

I actually watched the films because I'm dyslexic, so I didn't really read the books. However, I listened to the audiobooks too, so I mixed ways to experience them. When I started working on the play I began to truly get into the story - I understand it a lot more now.

I really connect with Hermione Granger since I played her daughter Rose, and I relate to what it meant to her to go through a school like that. I have a completely different insight into that world now after playing Rose Granger Weasley.

Cherrelle Skeete in rehearsal
for The Seagull

What was your reaction when you learnt you had got the part?

My first thought was "Oh my gosh, have they made a mistake?". I was just like... okay. I was actually very practical about it. I was living in Birmingham, so I started to think about having to pack up everything in a van, not really knowing what was ahead of me. I told myself "Okay, let's not get too excited now! Be practical! This is great!" But it was really hard to know what we were about to do - it only became real when we started the previews and we had a real audience and a real response.

Any famous audience members you were starstruck by?

There have been a few. When Julie Walters came to see it I thought I was going to wet myself. I'm from Birmingham and she is from the same area my mum grew up in, and she has this connection of course to the story as she would be my grandmother in the play. It was incredible.

Was it hard to keep the secrets?

At the beginning it was, yes. As actors, we talk about what's going to happen next, what you're auditioning for, new jobs and so on, so it was hard not to talk about it and I felt quite apologetic. Then I got into the habit of it, and even now when people ask me questions about the play it's more about not wanting to spoil the show for them because it's so magical.

You're now working on Simon Stephens' new adaptation of The Seagull, directed by Sean Holmes. How is it being approached in this production?

It's an adaptation, so it's a fresh take on the story. It takes away our preconceptions of what Chekhov is and what this piece represents. Because it's such a classic story and many people have done it, this production is widening the spectrum of the play.

It's about taking a look at these beautifully written classic stories and finding a reason to tell them right now. We need to ask why we need to tell it again and how. I had to take a look at myself and the role and reshape it to answer the question "Why today?".

Cherrelle Skeete and Michele Austin
in rehearsal for The Seagull

Are there any major changes?

People will have to see it - I don't want to spoil it.

Is it set in the contemporary world or is it in period dress?

It's in between. It's modern but also traditional at the same time.

Do you think it has resonance now?

Everything we're experiencing today has been experienced in the 1800s. Whether it's heartbreak or the need to be loved, it's just what means to be human. It can be played in any time period, in any part of the world. They are universal themes and what we are looking at is merely human behaviour.

Have you approached this project differently than Cursed Child?

I always start with myself first, from the way I'm connecting to the character and our truth. That's what I begin with in everything - panto, children's plays, screen work. Of course this is a different style than what I've done with Cursed Child. I'm playing an adult and I'm not doing any spells in this. But I started the same way, with my truth, and then worked from that.

How did you build the connection with Marcia, your character?

She's a modern woman stuck in a certain period of time. Being the arty one of the family, I could easily connect with her on that. That feeling of isolation that comes with it was another point, not being understood nor heard.

Any advice to young performers? Especially to women of colour?

First of all, believe in yourself. We live in an exciting time right now, we're seeing all these changes in our favour and we need to use these as inspiration. If you don't see it, go and make it, it will work. Ask a lot of questions, connect with people who inspire you, ask them everything, don't regret it!

The Seagull is at Lyric Hammersmith 3 October-4 November. Book tickets here

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton, Charlie Gray

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