Sasha Frost Rose Theatre Persuasion

Interview: Sasha Frost

Interview: Sasha Frost

The actor talks to Kate Byng-Hall about the Rose Theatre’s new take on Jane Austen

This spring, the Rose Theatre is staging what promises to be a very special production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, complete with foam machines and a pop soundtrack. Adapted by Jeff James and James Yeatman, The Rose Original and Alexandra Palace production, in association with Oxford Playhouse, puts a modern spin on the classic novel, but sticks close to its original story – one which its lead actor Sasha Frost says is very much relevant today.

Sasha will star as Anne Elliot alongside Fred Fergus as Captain Wentworth in the play, which sees a 27-year-old Anne come under pressure to marry and have children. Her family endures financial hardship, and it all coincides with a reunion with her ex-fiancé Captain Wentworth, whom she’d been persuaded not to marry as a teenager.

While a 27-year-old is by no means seen as a spinster today, as was the case back then, Sasha feels that some things haven’t changed in the way women come under such pressures. “I’m in my thirties now,” she says, “and every time I go home, someone’s asking me about getting married and having babies. It’s like, have we moved any further on? So, I was just really excited that the story still felt really relevant to me and my friends.”

Sasha has appeared on the silver screen in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the small screen in His Dark Materials and on the stage in The Lightning Child at The Globe.

She began acting at 15 after being inspired by an encouraging drama teacher, and became the first in her family to enter higher education when she went to drama school. She has since tried her hand at whatever the acting world can throw at her. When asked if she has a favourite medium, she told me, “I really like stage, TV, all of it really – I feel grateful and really lucky that, so far, my career has allowed me to have a go at all of it.”

For now, she is loving finally treading the boards again: “After the last year and a half, it’s just a treat to be in front of people live. We didn’t know when that would happen again, so I’m soaking it all up, not getting tired and just loving it.”

Sasha admired Jane Austen’s work long before getting the script for this production: “When I was about 13 or 14, there was a local library near my nan’s house and I was a bit of a loner for a while. I used to go to the library, and I was obsessed with Jane Austen. I would sit for hours poring over her books, and I felt very grown up that I could absorb these characters in this world which was completely different to the world I was living in.

“I never in a million years thought I would get to play Anne or, in fact, any of her characters, to be honest.”

Her passion for Austen isn’t all that drew her to the role – the character of Anne really sprung out to her. “We would totally be mates,” she says. “She’s really smart, really intelligent and thoughtful. And yet, she is never showy, and she’s quite considered and good at dealing with people.

“She’s really strong. She’s a survivor, and I really like that. She just keeps going and then, finally, gets her happy ending.”

While the story still feels relevant today, Sasha was initially surprised by the idea of giving it a contemporary makeover. She tells me, “The script doesn’t give very much away because it seems quite traditional when you read it. So, when I went in to meet Jeff and he started explaining what he was going to do with it, I was like, ‘What? You’re having a foam machine? Are you crazy? This is insane.’ And then I went away and thought, ‘Oh god, maybe this is amazing!’”

Without giving too much away, the kooky foam machine will be used to imitate the waves of Lyme Regis (Sasha suggests packing a mac if you’re in the front row), and tunes from the likes of Frank Ocean, Dua Lipa and Cardi B will accompany the action.

The present-day urban setting adds another twist which Sasha is excited about. “It looks like London now – like my experience of London,” she says.  “Everyone really is different. Everyone speaks in their own voices, it’s not like everyone’s doing RP [received pronunciation]. And it is very much English because it’s the England we’re living in now.”

She thinks this makes the play perfect for a London audience, and is looking forward to her debut in Kingston. She tells me, “I find the audiences really exciting in London; they’re quite diverse. Everyone is invested in what’s happening, and you just look around and there’s all sorts of people here enjoying this one experience.”

After the leg at The Rose, the play will move on to runs at both Alexandra Palace and Oxford Playhouse. Sasha is excited to bring this telling of the story in all its unorthodox glory to audiences at all three venues.

“You want young people to continue loving Jane Austen and reading her stuff. And if [the play] makes people read her other books that maybe they wouldn’t have done before, then that’s only a good thing in my opinion.”

Persuasion, Rose Theatre

26 February – 19 March

Alexandra Palace

7 – 30 April

Oxford Playhouse

4 – 14 May

Image: Seamus Ryan & Muse Creative Communications