With the magical and heart-warming stage-hit Mary Poppins having wowed audiences across the UK, it’s now flying into Dubai Opera and we couldn’t be more excited. Here actress Zizi Strallen tells how she is all set to take on the lead role, bringing the character to life in supercalifragilistic style…
Proving incredibly popular, box office business has already flourished during the UK and Ireland tour, Zizi explains. “It is going really well and we are performing in front of busy theatres. The audience reactions are different in every place but they are always good.” Part of this is success is no doubt due to the story’s steadfast position in pop-culture consciousness, but though the show feeds in some of the famous devices from the much-loved 1964 film, it mixes these with a lot of elements from the original Mary Poppins stories by P.L. Travers as well. Zizi believes this combination lends the production greater depth, “I think sometimes people think this is the stage version of the film but there would be no point just doing that”, she adds that “it’s also not a take-off of Julie Andrews, I have added my own influence to the character. You do get bits from the film in the show but there would be no point doing the stage show if it was exactly the same. Having said that, I love the film and there are some songs I really love, such as ‘Feed the Birds’ and ‘Jolly Holiday’.”
For Zizi, the opportunity to play the iconic role in a tour co-produced by Disney and world-renowned theatrical impresario Cameron Mackintosh was too good to turn down and it marked the latest chapter in an exciting life. After training at Arts Ed in London and the London Studio Centre, she has enjoyed a successful career in a wide range of roles, including Demeter in Cats at the London Palladium and Penny Pingleton in Hairspray at the nationally-renowned Leicester Curve. Add in West End roles in Rock Of Ages, Dirty Dancing, Scrooge and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and her strong performing pedigree speaks for itself.
One person she has particularly enjoyed working with is Matthew Bourne, dancing for him as Betty in Cinderella and playing Lana in The Car Man. Bourne is heavily involved in the Mary Poppins production as both co-director and choreographer and Zizi relishes the chance to work with him again. “Working with Matthew helped me a lot with my physicality and core stability” she says, and explains that her dancing skills have been key to bringing the Mary Poppins role to life, something that has been a dream part for her.
“I think what I try to do as Mary Poppins is imitate the childrens’ behaviour. There’s an advert where a child is having a tantrum and the mother does the same thing, I love it. However the child speaks, you say it in the same way so it mirrors that behaviour - I still do that with my sister. With Mary Poppins, when the kids get softer and become better-behaved, so does Mary Poppins. That is the journey we go on in the show.”
The show is a family affair for Zizi, with her sister Scarlett having played the role in the West End, and Zizi acknowledges that it was interesting to chat with her about the part. “She said it wasn’t strange for her seeing me in the part. She was doing it with me and felt exhausted so she knew how challenging and tiring it is. When I got the role, she was so happy. She said if there was anyone she really wanted to do it, it was me.”
The demands of the role and show are high but Zizi’s energetic performance is matched by her modesty at being able to cope with these challenges. Equally, down-time is important to her and one of her main off-stage projects is making comedy. “I’ve been writing sketches as a hobby for quite a few years now. I realised they were all based on a collection of characters and thought I might as well extend them into a sitcom. It’s what I would like to do as a career, although it could be a long time before anything happens.”
Having a rest also helps her stay grounded, allowing her to cope with the physical and mental demands. “I have my car and drive to most places, and I try to get home most weekends so it doesn’t feel like you are away too much.”
With this in mind, Zizi is well prepared to bring her incredible stage presence, superb singing voice and dynamic dancing to one of the most popular female characters in theatre.
Mary Poppins runs at Dubai Opera from the 1st to the 25th of May. For tickets and more information visit www.dubaiopera.com