How Michaela Strachan deals with di­nosaurs

The Wharf - - News - Erica Bush

W ildlife tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter Michaela Strachan is set to swap the screen for the stage this sum­mer as she stars in Walk­ing With Di­nosaurs – The Arena Spec­tac­u­lar across the UK. The 52-year-old, well-known for her stints on Spring­watch, Coun­try­file and The Re­ally Wild Show, will take on the role of palaeon­tol­o­gist Hux­ley in the $20mil­lion pro­duc­tion based on the BBC tele­vi­sion se­ries. While Michaela ad­mit­ted it was a “sur­prise” when the of­fer landed in her in­box, tak­ing to the tour, which kicks off in New­cas­tle on July 21 and comes to The O2 on Green­wich Penin­sula from Au­gust 14 to 19, isn’t a com­plete de­par­ture for the star. “It feels like I’m com­ing full cir­cle be­cause I trained for mu­si­cal theatre be­fore I went into tele­vi­sion,” said the Cape Town res­i­dent. “I trained at Arts Ed­u­ca­tional Schools in London and did a tour­ing mu­si­cal of Seven Brides For Seven Broth­ers and went into the West End with it. “Since then, I’ve done 18 pan­tomimes so I’ve sort of had my theatre fix but I haven’t done a panto for 10 years. “Fun­nily enough, be­fore this hap­pened, I was sort of think­ing, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to go back into panto?’. “The trou­ble is at my age you don’t get the good parts any more. You don’t get to play Peter Pan or Cin­derella or Aladdin – you get the fairy. So the joy of do­ing an arena spec­tac­u­lar is re­ally, re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

The first fe­male to play the role of Hux­ley, Michaela is set to nar­rate the pro­duc­tion as it takes au­di­ences through di­nosaurs’ evo­lu­tion and their 20mil­lion-year reign.

The one hour, 40-minute pro­duc­tion prom­ises to marry state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy with fac­tual ac­cu­racy for a truly im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The show holds peo­ple’s hands and takes them into the realm of di­nosaurs and helps them imag­ine what it might’ve been like,” said Michaela.

“So it takes them through the dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods – from Tri­as­sic to Juras­sic to Cre­ta­ceous – and it in­tro­duces you to a few of the di­nosaurs in those pe­ri­ods.

“What they look like is very, very ac­cu­rate. For in­stance, for one of the di­nosaurs in the show, they’ve now found that it had hair on its head and so they’ve changed and added that. It shows you the way that the world changed and how the con­ti­nents moved so it re­ally is very ed­u­ca­tional.” Michaela, who is liv­ing in Shaftes­bury Av­enue for 10 weeks while she re­hearses the script, said the mu­sic was one of the most im­pres­sive, yet hard­est to mas­ter, as­pects of the pro­duc­tion.

“One of the things I hadn’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated when I took the role on is how fan­tas­tic the mu­sic is,” she said. “The score is ab­so­lutely stun­ning. I feel like I’m in Harry Pot­ter. But what I didn’t re­alise at first is you have to be quite mu­si­cal to fit the script to the mu­sic.

“Be­cause the mu­sic is com­pli­cated, it’s or­ches­tral mu­sic, and you’ve got to come in on that beat or that bar or af­ter that crescendo, and if you don’t then it gets a bit stuffed up with the spe­cial ef­fects and the di­nosaurs mov­ing, so you have to get very fa­mil­iar with the mu­sic and the script.” She also said the life-size di­nosaurs, of which there are 10 up to 36 feet in size, were prov­ing dis­tract­ing.

“It’s the spec­ta­cle of it while you’re hear­ing all of the facts and look­ing at these life-size di­nosaurs,” she said. “I mean, to have a life-size T-Rex is amaz­ing.

“A lot of other shows that you see don’t have life-size di­nosaurs in them and these are mov­ing around the stage, fight­ing each other, do­ing things and it’s so re­al­is­tic in the way that they move.

“Cer­tainly in re­hearsals I’m sup­posed to be lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic and work­ing out what my script is and in­stead, I’m star­ing at these di­nosaurs, just so en­thralled.”

And as Green­wich ap­pears to be over­come with ter­ri­ble lizards – Di­nosaurs In The Wild is still run­ning on the Penin­sula – why do they con­tinue to cap­ti­vate the masses?

“I think it’s be­cause we’re still learn­ing so much about them and we’re all fas­ci­nated by the fact that a whole species sud­denly dis­ap­peared,” said Michaela.

“The size and scale of them is why peo­ple are so drawn to di­nosaurs be­cause we have noth­ing that size any more. Just look­ing at what was here years ago is fas­ci­nat­ing for any­body.”

As for Michaela, she’s most look­ing for­ward to re­liv­ing her theatre days and per­form­ing on the big stage.

She said: “It’s just the thought of go­ing into these mas­sive are­nas. I am so ex­cited about go­ing to The O2 and be­ing able to pre­tend I’m a rock star.” Walk­ing With Di­nosaurs – The Arena Spec­tac­u­lar UK tour runs from July to December.

For venues and tick­ets, which start at £29, go to di­nosaurlive.com or theo2.co.uk

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