Buckinghamshire-based actress Natalie Kassanga on coming full circle at the MK Theatre and being on stage since ten years of age
Later in January you will be starring in Dreamgirls at MK Theatre. What attracted you to being involved?
Dreamgirls was a huge part of my childhood, and when I first saw the film back in 2006, I remember being extremely inspired. The film allowed me to fall in love with music and it introduced me to the Motown era and how incredible and revolutionary it was back in the 1960s and 70s. Not only was it the film that represented the amazing story, but it was also the actors who portrayed these characters such as Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy, who are these amazing icons within the industry. So, when I had the chance to watch the Dreamgirls musical back in 2018, seeing the way it was portrayed, the story, the talent, the sets, costumes, the songs and the way they had been written for the musical, I knew that I would have loved the opportunity to be on that stage. And the fact that I’ve been given the opportunity to play such an iconic role is amazing.
What role are you playing and what can we expect to see on stage?
I am playing the role of Deena Jones, who is the baby of the trio. She’s this huge bundle of energy, she’s full of ambition, she’s full of love and she’s all about family. What you see on stage is an incredible story of these young three ladies who share the same dream of wanting to become pop stars. And not only is it about the glitz, the glamour, the set, the music, it also comes with a lot of trials and tribulations. There’s a lot of manipulation, mistrust and hurt. And the show has a very special way of showing both of those aspects.
You first appeared on stage as a 10-year-old. What do you remember about the early days starring in The Lion King?
I just remember being so overwhelmed by everything that was happening around me and everything that was going on. Not only was it my first time being on a West End stage, but actually being part of a production, and a very famous production, with lighting, tech, automation, costumes, makeup and hair. As a young girl, I remember taking it all in, but not actually understanding how big the opportunity that I was given was. I just remember having the most incredible time, it was so exciting. I had a great partner, my Simba, who was also making his West End debut, and we shared our very first West End production together. But also, it was a predominantly black production, so we were taken care of, and we had people around that looked like us. People like Alexia Khadime who played older Nala, she was one of the first people who inspired me to want to carry on in this industry.
Since then, what for you have been the highlights of your acting career?
Being cast as Diana Ross in Berry Gordy’s Motown the Musical was probably the biggest highlight of my career so far, just because I never saw that day coming, and I never would have imagined playing such a role. It’s not just a character, it’s a person, it’s an iconic artist that’s still around to this day, who was a part of my childhood. To be given the opportunity to step into her shoes for two hours every single night for about a year was very, very life-changing for me. It taught me a lot about being a lady for the first time, carrying that weight and responsibility of giving people and audiences the experience they deserve when they come to watch the show.
Are you looking forward to appearing at the MK Theatre, particularly considering it’s local to you?
I am super excited to finally be coming back home with this tour and performing at Milton Keynes Theatre. One reason being because that’s where everything started for me. I performed at Milton Keynes Theatre for the first time when I was about 11 or 12-years-old with the show Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I remember it being so special for me at the time because I was performing in my hometown theatre that I used to walk past every single day. So, to actually have that full circle moment this time, not only as a leading lady, but to be able to share it with friends, family, those that have been a part of my upbringing that may have not had the chance to access London and a West End theatre. The fact that it’s coming to their doorstep and it’s coming home is truly special and exciting.
Have you lived in Buckinghamshire all your life? And what’s your favourite thing about where you live?
I have lived in Milton Keynes and pretty much my entire life. I was born in London and moved to Milton Keynes when I was about three-years-old and I’m still based there. London will always hold a special place in my heart, but Milton Keynes definitely is my home, it’s everything that I am. And I love that fact that even though my career is based in London, I can take myself away from the noise, chaos and drama that London comes with, and the lifestyle that London comes with. To take myself back home to Milton Keynes is really grounding, and it keeps me humble. I’ve fallen in love with everything about Milton Keynes, that’s always going be my hometown, it’s always going to be my baby.
Do you enjoy any bracing winter walks locally?
I’m the kind of girl that loves a walk. I love to take myself out, get some fresh air and enjoy the nature. Because I love winter and my winter attire, I do like going on a winter walk in the cold and looking at the beautiful Christmas lights. Going to Winter Wonderland, experiencing the Christmas fairs, is definitely a big part of enjoying this time of year to the fullest.
If possible, could you pick out your three favourite places in the county?
So, me and my family have this tradition where every single Sunday, we go to a Toby’s Carvery, and it has been a part of my life for the longest! We’ve made it into a family tradition, it’s something I always love to do. A Sunday roast, you can never beat it.
Every now and again when I want to wind down, there’s a spa quite close to Milton Keynes that I go to quite often called Whittlebury Hall. It’s honestly one of my favourite places because it’s quiet, peaceful and the service there is incredible. And it’s somewhere I go to have a bit of me time, because that’s the thing about this industry, everything can be so overwhelming, there’s a lot happening and you’re around people all the time. So, to have somewhere to go where it’s just me, myself and I is so important.
Finally, any new year resolutions?
For me, for the next coming year, mine is to just enjoy life to the fullest. With the last year we’ve had with the pandemic, we’ve lost a lot, we’ve experienced a lot, a lot of our lives have been affected. And I feel like in the meantime, we’ve not been able to appreciate what we have in life and to not take things for granted. So, to have this opportunity to be on this tour, for me is to enjoy every second of it, and to enjoy the show, to allow myself to grow and to really take it as it comes and to appreciate everything that comes with it.
Dreamgirls is live at Milton Keynes Theatre from 25 January-5 February, for tickets visit atgtickets.com/shows/dreamgirls/milton-keynes-theatre (all photos by Matt Crockett)