How Michaela Strachan deals with dinosaurs
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