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London Calling – A Conversation With Scarlett Strallen

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David Allen speaks with West End Star Scarlett Strallen about Australia and her experiences as Mary Poppins…

Scarlett Strallen For those unknown to the work and career and West End star Scarlett Strallen, it’s an impressive line-up.

Her musical credits run the gamut from Shakespeare to Sondheim, Gilbert & Sullivan to Arthur Freed – she’s talented, beautiful, in demand, and she’s packing ‘em in right now at the Capitol Theatre in our own production of Mary Poppins.

No stranger to the role, Scarlett is an undeniable über-Poppins. This will be the fourth time she has headlined as the title character of the international smash-hit musical. She has done so twice on the West End, on Broadway, and will now sing, dance and fly for 8 weeks with the Sydney production until November 27 this year.

The lead-up to actually having a conversation with Scarlett saw me drinking a lot of coffee and pacing up and down, racked with nerves. Usually when I have the good fortune to meet a West End/Broadway star it’s in a back alley by the stage door of a theatre. I’m generally clutching a program, a permanent marker and the hand of whichever of my girlfriends I have conned into viewing this display – as any of them will tell you it’s a treacherous business.

Fortunately the following may be said post-conversation with Scarlett Strallen: First, she’s a professional. She knows her job and nary a foot goes wrong as she dances around those chimney pots. Second, she loves her job, and shares it with glowing enthusiasm. Third, she is the rare and most treasured of gifts so far as actors go. While she possesses that “je ne sais quoi” of the star, she remains effortlessly charming, warm and accessible. A conversation with her is personified by a great deal of laughter.

I start by apologising for the rotten weather of late and asking how long she has been in Sydney.

“Oh! Don’t be sorry – it’s reminded me of home. I got here two and a half weeks ago and I’ve barely stepped foot out of the theatre since then. If it hadn’t been gloomy outside I would have been so distracted”, she said.

How are the cast [of Mary Poppins] treating you? Have you blended well?

“It’s been wonderful – David, really – I just can’t speak well enough of them. They’re all so dedicated to what they’re doing and they’ve welcomed me in with open arms. I’ve made so many new friends with the cast and crew – it really just has been wonderful.”

And the Capitol (by now I was gushing) – how much do you love it!

“So much! I mean to come from Broadway and West End theatres – Broadway especially you imagine these huge old theatres. They’re actually really quite small and cramped. Backstage can be really constricted. I don’t know when the Capitol was built or renovated – it seems so new – but there’s just so much space! And with a show like Mary, that’s just so important.”

And this is the third continent on which you’ve played Mary – how have you been in the lead up to your debut?

“There’s been a lot to learn and re-learn for this production – and it’s such an amazing production. The cast are all just so impressive. They’ve helped me so much. There’s a whole new song for Mary and a lot of new footwork. It’s been great fun. I just love too that I’m doing it here! I just love the vibe of Sydney.”

Have you had any chance at all to get out and explore?

“A little bit. I’ve been given the most beautiful accommodations in the city and I just love the vibe around Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. We have a different schedule though to Broadway and the West End. We do two shows a day on Saturday and Sunday and then I have Monday and Tuesday off to recover. Some of the crew have said they’ll take me out to the Blue Mountains one weekend. I really do want to get out and see the city.”

At this stage in the conversation I decided my love of Bondi and Manly and Sydney’s various toni cognoscente tourist traps didn’t make for a good interview – so I changed the subject and started talking about Scarlett’s impressive back-catalogue of roles.

Now before Sydney, really you haven’t stopped working for almost a decade now.

“I’ve been very lucky yes. I’ve gotten to work with some of the most incredible people…” Including Judi Dench! “Yes!”

I just have to ask about that. You were in the musical adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor for the RSC opposite Judi Dench and Simon Callow – I mean… Wow! What was that like?

“Just so incredible. Judi Dench is just everything and more you’ve ever heard about her – just the most lovely, humble, beautiful person. And she’d die of embarrassment to hear me say it, but she is just so amazingly talented. David, I literally used to just stand in the wings and watch her night after night! Working with her, and for the RSC, it was just the most incredible experience.”

And what about Broadway? I can only imagine what it’s like to take a bow on a Broadway stage!

“I really just have had the most incredible time. Mary has taken me all over the world now and Broadway was just incredible. New York is incredible.”

But what’s next? I mean, you finish in Sydney in December. Will you stick around?

“Oh I hope so. But before I came here I was in Singing in the Rain at the Chichester Festival. And it this stage it looks quite certain that we’ll be taking it to the West End. Rehearsals start in February and we’ll be opening at the Palace Theatre.”

At this point I realised my allotment of time had to be nearly exhausted, so I gushed gaily for a couple of minutes. This included a suggestion that she tour Australia next year with her equally lauded sister Summer Strallen (Love Never Dies, Top Hat, The Sound of Music) – and Scarlett I will hold you to that! The State Theatre beckons!

I also somehow secured myself a meeting for coffee – before allowing Scarlett to head off and get ready for the show that night.

Of Scarlett Strallen’s performance, I can only say that on stage she is a knock-out! Her Mary Poppins is somewhere between one of the beauteous ingénues of Oscar Wilde and the formidable dames of a Bergman film. She is cheeky, poised and graceful beyond belief.

To Australia’s own Mary Poppins, Verity Hunt-Ballard, I can only say: rest easy darling, your role is in good hands so have a good break! We will be ready for your return with open arms and rapturous applause. To Scarlett Strallen, Australia’s honorary Mary, so happy you’re here!

And I know a great café in Surry Hills – it would be my honour to shout you a chai latte. And to use a well worn but, on all accounts, well deserved cliché – Scarlett Strallen is practically perfect in every way.

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