With the new production of The Witches currently showing at the National Theatre, Sasha Watson-Lobo is in the cast of the Roald Dahl musical, which is booking until 27th January 2024. This summer, Sasha played Louisa in The Sound of Music at Chichester Festival Theatre, with a cast including Gina Beck as Maria and Edward Harrison as Captain von Trapp. Having made her professional and West End debut in Les Misérables as Young Éponine, before going on to play Little Cosette, Sasha since played Young Elsa (Samantha Barks) in the original West End cast of FROZEN the Musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. On screen, Sasha was in the recent release of The Little Mermaid, and she played Helene in the short film Mousie, which saw her win three Best Actress awards for her portrayal of the character and be directed by David Bartlett. Alongside acting, Sasha is also a talented dancer, and last year, she won Gold for her Tap solo and Silver for her Song and Dance solo at The All England Dance National Finals. Sasha talked to us about being in the cast of The Witches at the National Theatre, her time as Louisa in The Sound of Music, originating the role of Young Elsa in FROZEN the Musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane and her award-winning performance in short film Mousie.
You are currently performing in the National Theatre’s production of The Witches, how was it rehearsing for a new production?
Rehearsals for The Witches at the National Theatre were amazing and really fun. Between all of the children, adult cast, crew, creatives and musical team, I feel that there is a very strong friendship and sense of togetherness. I feel very fortunate to be benefitting from the incredible skills of such talented people as Nigel Lilley, Stephen Mear and Lyndsey Turner. Working with such highly acclaimed industry professionals is an honour and I still have to pinch myself that I see them almost every day.
Juggling rehearsals with school work can be tricky, but we made it work and I really enjoy being busy. I’m very lucky that my school is so supportive of any performing opportunities I have. Whether I’m in the lesson, on the train, or at home, the work always gets done in the end.
The rehearsal period of any show is always the most intense but there is something wonderful about being part of the creation of a brand new show. Watching the creative choreography, beautiful score and innovative scenery all come together is a fascinating process… especially with quite a few magic tricks thrown in and lots of disappearing children!
Was there anything that drew you to be part of The Witches and what were you looking forward to for opening in the show?
Often, the audition process for shows involves the casting director approaching agents to see which children they have on their books who fit the criteria they are looking for. They then decide who is lucky enough to get an audition, and the show is cast from there.
The National Theatre went about their casting in a different way and welcomed self-tapes from anyone and everyone who would like to be considered. This was a wonderful opportunity for children not represented by an agent to be seen. My wonderful agent suggested that I apply, so I sent a self-tape back in January and was very excited to be part of the ‘in person’ audition process that followed and then led to being offered the job.
Roald Dahl was one of my favourite authors as a younger child, so although we only knew the rough storyline and one song I learnt for the auditions, it was clear from the location and creative team that this was going to be something very special!
How is it working with the rest of the cast and why would you recommend booking tickets to see The Witches at the National Theatre?
Everyone involved in this production is incredibly talented in their own way. From the lighting team to the pianists and from the cast to the mic team, we are all giving this our very best, which I feel is evident in the rehearsals. There is a viewing window at the side of the theatre where we have been able to see lots of scenery and props being made whilst walking to and from rehearsals. One day, we saw some wallpaper being hand-painted, which I think is a great example of the attention to detail that is going into this production!
There are three teams of 10 children, and when all 30 of us are together it’s sometimes not the quietest place to be, but we all know when there’s a job to be done, and I love the energy that can be felt when we’re all performing together. I feel we have a great bond with the adult cast and we all have a lot of fun. Everyone can switch into ‘show mode’ in a flash and I think our performances have a special spark as we are all so close.
Over the summer, you were playing Louisa in The Sound of Music at Chichester Festival Theatre, what did you enjoy most about playing the character?
The Sound of Music is such an iconic musical and to have been able to play a von Trapp during my childhood is something I’ll always treasure. Louisa is a fun character and I loved playing her very much. She is inquisitive and playful with a wicked sense of humour. She was the one who played various tricks on the governesses and could make light of most situations.
There is a wonderful line said by Maria in the show when she is explaining the personality traits of the various children to the Captain.
‘Louisa wants to have a good time. You’ve just got to let her have a good time’.
I think this sums Louisa up perfectly, and my mum thinks it describes me pretty well too.
What was it like learning the choreography and performing with your fellow von Trapps?
Rehearsals started at the end of May and were in London most days until it was time to head to Chichester for the technical rehearsals at the end of June. The oldest von Trapp child (Liesl) was played by adult actress, Lauren Conroy. That left the roles of the remaining von Trapps to be played by two teams of six children. Our off-stage relationship with Lauren was a perfect mix of sister/friend and all the adult cast were great fun to be around. The voices of the females who played the nuns were nothing short of incredible and were an inspiration to us all!
All 12 children very quickly became friends and thoroughly enjoyed learning the sometimes tricky choreography together. Do Re Mi and The Lonely Goatherd were the hardest musical numbers to learn so we started with those first. It took a while for them to look clean, but all the hard work was more than worth it, and the end result was a great show that we were all extremely proud to be a part of. I really enjoyed being in a show with so many other children. We definitely made friends for life and will always remember our summer of beach trips, midnight feasts and fun.
How was your time in Chichester and what was the atmosphere like on your final show day?
All good things have to come to an end, and we all knew from the beginning that it was a limited run of 10 weeks. I don’t think any of us anticipated how quickly those weeks would fly by though and neither the adults or the children were ready to say goodbye to our beautiful show.
I definitely felt a sense of responsibility to the actual von Trapp family every time we had to climb that mountain and imagine how they must have felt leaving their home for good. At most performances, there were a great deal of audience members visibly crying at this point and at the final show most of the cast were moved to tears by the combination of having had the honour to tell the von Trapps’ story and saying goodbye to our perfect summer.
What are some of your favourite memories from being in the original West End cast of FROZEN the Musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane and do you remember finding out you’d booked the role?
It’s hard to know how to begin to describe how incredible it was to be part of the original West End cast of FROZEN the Musical. The magnitude of the show and the role was made even greater by the timing coinciding with the world re-opening after lockdowns and COVID.
The first round of auditions involved recording some scenes and songs from home. Then the final auditions were held in March 2021 when London was still very much closed. We were socially distanced on the stage of the Lyceum Theatre with the people auditioning us all socially distanced in the stalls. Some even Zoomed in from New York as it wasn’t possible to fly into the UK without a quarantine period.
I will never forget receiving the phone call from my agent to tell me I had been offered the role. It was my mum’s birthday and we were in the car, we saw Carolyn’s name flash up on the screen as the phone rang and both our hearts seemed to pause as we took the call. It didn’t seem real and I was lost for words. It took a while to sink in and I was incredibly excited and grateful, although there was always the slight cloud of COVID hovering above the excitement as there was no guarantee that theatres would be allowed to open. Luckily though, everything worked out perfectly and we were able to open at the end of August as planned. Being part of such an awesome production was an absolute dream come true! The score, the special effects, the costumes, the theatre… everything was the very best that it could possibly be and spending a year as a Disney princess will always be one of the most special periods of my life.
What was it like originating the role of Young Elsa in London and how was it getting into character?
Being part of the creative process from the very beginning of a show is fascinating. There were four children sharing the roles of both Young Anna and Young Elsa and (after our daily COVID tests) the eight of us all sparked off each other as we brought our own ideas and individuality into the roles. The FROZEN family felt very much like a family as we all spent so much time together during that summer, being very excited that we were part of something so special and also so grateful that the world of live theatre was back after such a difficult and sad time.
Elsa is a determined and feisty character with a fun-loving streak; she was great fun to play. Getting to create a mini snowstorm in my hands was just as much fun in my final performance as it was the first rehearsal.
What was it like making your professional and West End debut in Les Miserables in 2018 as Young Éponine and how was it playing the role of Little Cosette?
My audition for this was four days after my seventh birthday. I had fun learning the song and I really enjoyed the audition. My mum and agent thought the audition would be a great experience for me and were both extremely surprised when I was offered the part of Young Éponine the following morning. I loved my time in Les Mis, I particularly remember loving the warm-ups as we got to sing with the adult cast. I was too young to appreciate that I was seven and sharing a stage with some of the most incredible performers in the UK, in one of the most prestigious musicals in the world. I just had a great time.
After playing Young Éponine for a long time, to get to play the role of Little Cosette was a dream come true. I was eight by that time and I definitely understood how significant it was. I wasn’t nervous though, just extremely excited that I got to hold that broom and sing Castle on a Cloud.
On screen, you filmed for the recent release of The Little Mermaid, how did you find the experience on set?
In the film industry, lots of information is kept secret for as long as possible in the early stages, so when I was asked to audition, we only had a code name for the film and therefore had no idea what I was actually auditioning for. The auditions were at Pinewood Studios and all we knew was that they wanted dancers for a film. A couple of days later, we found out they wanted one girl and one boy from that whole room of auditionees, and I was the girl! We also found out it was for the live action remake of The Little Mermaid! That was definitely a wow moment. We had some costume fittings and a couple of rehearsals before the world was put on pause due to COVID. Over a year later, the project was brought to life again and luckily I still looked young enough to play the part.
My time on set was so much fun and getting to watch the whole scene come together was amazing. The attention to detail was incredible, the whole village beach scene was created with palm trees being planted, sand being delivered and even various animals being brought in specially too. I will always remember how humble and friendly Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King were. They are such huge stars and such lovely people. During the rehearsals for our market scene, there were lots of occasions where the two stars (them) and the two children (us) were taken aside so the adult dancers and villagers could rehearse. I will always remember how much fun we had together chatting during those times, especially the day we had ice cream. I was so touched when they recognised me at the film’s premiere in Leicester Square nearly two years later. My part was only a very small one, but I loved being a part of something so special.
Can you tell us about the short film Mousie and your character Helene, and what was it like to work on?
When I was seven, I was invited to meet the wonderful director David Bartlett. He and producer Will Poole had a vision of the child they were after, and I was very lucky to have been that child! Working on Mousie was an amazing experience, I learnt on the job as David kindly and thoughtfully talked me through each scene. We both loved our chats about what Helene would have been feeling and thinking in the various parts of the story and gradually we worked through the script telling the very touching story of a little Roma girl, fending for herself in war-torn Berlin. I was very lucky to have had this wonderful experience and to have met so many lovely people.
How was it seeing the huge success to the film and what was it like winning three Best Actress awards for your performance?
I was only seven when Mousie was filmed and I didn’t understand the scale of the journey Mousie would end up taking. To have been chosen for film festivals was very exciting but we had no idea there were awards to be won, or that I would be chosen out of all the actresses in all the films to receive the Best Actress award… three times! I am incredibly proud of these awards, but think David Bartlett definitely deserves to share them with me, as it was he who guided me through his beautiful story and taught me so much.
As a dancer, you have won many medals including Gold for your Tap solo and Silver for your Song and Dance solo at The All England Dance National Finals last year, can you tell us about this?
Dance competitions (usually called festivals) take on a sort of ladder system. Some festivals are an event in their own right and others are qualifying festivals for The All England Dance. If you gain a certain mark at these festivals, you are eligible to enter the Regional Finals, which are held every two years. At each Regional Final, three lucky dancers in each section are awarded a place at the National Finals, so, as you can imagine, it’s a huge honour to even get to the National Finals. I am very proud to have got to the National Finals every year I’ve been eligible to try. When I was seven, I gained first place for my Musical Theatre solo and second place for my Tap solo. When I was nine, I gained first place for my Character solo. When I was 12 (delayed a year due to COVID), I gained first place for my Tap solo and second place for my Musical Theatre solo. My mum is my teacher and I remember her telling me when I was tiny that getting to the Finals is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I love a challenge and even if I never make it again, nothing can ever take away the amazing memories or sense of pride and elation hearing my name called as the winner.
I have also been lucky enough to represent England at the Dance World Cup, which is the largest dance competition in the world. I still have to pinch myself that I won first place there with my Musical Theatre solos when I was nine and 11. I will never forget hearing the National Anthem played whilst I had gold medals placed around my neck.
Yes, dance festivals are competitive, but that doesn’t make them negative in any way, they are a wonderful experience and very friendly. It’s not like Dance Moms at all… although I love watching that programme.
Where does your love of acting and dance come from and how did you get into both?
Both my mum and her mum before her were dancers and dance teachers, so I guess I have them to thank. I was at a dance festival with my mum when I was tiny supporting some of her pupils. When it was time to leave, I cried because I ‘hadn’t had my turn yet’. I think that’s where it all began. At the next festival, I had my turn and have never looked back. I’ve been more than lucky to have had so many opportunities in my life so far, to have so much support and to have made so many friends along the way.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch?
I’m glad you didn’t ask me for just one, as that would have been impossible to answer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard a musical I didn’t like, but here are some that stand out for me.
Wicked and Into the Woods both have very interesting storylines alongside their wonderful scores. SIX is great fun and very uplifting. Les Misérables is very moving and FROZEN will always hold a very special place in my heart, particularly the harmonies at the end of Let It Go just before the finale. Having said that, The Sound of Music and A Christmas Carol are also very special to me, as is Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady and Legally Blonde… I think it’s fair to say I just love musicals!
How do you like to spend your free time?
Free time is very important and something we treasure in our busy household. We work hard and we play hard.
My friends and family are all very important to me so I always try and make time for them. I enjoy lazy days at home baking, drawing and playing with our three cats just as much as trips to the beach and walks in the countryside… ooh, and shopping. 😃