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Summer Strallen's role in Land Girls

When your auntie's Bonnie Langford, your godfather's Christopher Biggins and your parents starred in the original West End musical Cats, there's a good chance you'll find yourself in the 'biz'.

So it comes as little surprise to hear that Summer Strallen made her dancing debut at the ripe old age of 18 months.

"I can't say it was quiet," she says of growing up in an all-singing, all-dancing household. Even her three sisters, Saskia, 15, Zizi, 19, and Scarlett, 27 are fellow actresses.

"We were constantly busy doing shows, whether for my grandmother's dancing school or we were auditioning."

But while she may have been treading the boards since she was knee high to a pantomime dame, it was the role of Maria in The Sound of Music, which she took over from Connie Fisher, that shot her to fame. As part of the publicity campaign, she was even planted in teen soap Hollyoaks as Summer Shaw a few months prior to her stage debut - a character who auditioned and then won the role of Maria in the West End.

"I think people thought I went to Hollyoaks and then to The Sound of Music and that was my first job but I'd done probably about eight before that," she says sounding only slightly weary. "But it doesn't annoy me."

"Hollyoaks and The Sound of Music were a wonderful stepping stone for me and all my thanks go to Andrew Lloyd Webber and the executive producer of Hollyoaks, Tony Wood, who came up with the idea because it opened a lot of doors for me."

Ever ambitious, when The Sound of Music closed in February this year, Summer decided to flex her operatic chords in the operetta, Paradise Moscow.

"It was wonderful," she says of the experience. "I got to train with real opera singers and a musical director who helped me train my voice. I hate to say it but opera singing requires a lot more technique than musical theatre singing."

Rather fittingly, while she speaks from a sun lounger at her aunt's place in Spain, classical music is playing softly in the background. Clearly unfazed by her success, there's a hint of the 'world weary' in the plummy tones coming from the phone, making her sound older than her 26 years.

The reason for said phone call is to talk about Land Girls, a five-part drama Summer's starring in and one of numerous programmes marking the 70th anniversary of World War Two.

"Doing Land Girls was the most fun I'd had in a job for years," she says. "I always use Guys and Dolls, which I did with Ewan McGregor as a point of reference. That was wonderful for me but I think Land Girls topped it."

Following the lives and loves of four girls doing their bit for Britain in the Women's Land Army (WLA,) Summer plays Nancy, a cosseted rich girl conscripted into the WLA against her will.

"Basically at the beginning, Nancy is a pain in the backside," she says. "She's one of those girls who has finished school and is looking to find a husband. She takes a bit of a shine to the lord of the manor, Laurence Hoxley, played by Nathaniel Parker, and isn't secretive about it," she adds laughing.

"You hate to love her but it's not all dances and working on the farm. The actual reality of war sets in when someone in authority is challenging her patriotism."

While Summer describes it as "an honour to be involved" in the series, she admits it was the chance to dress up in period costume that got her really excited.

"Doing period drama set in the Forties is such a joy to do because you get all the hairstyles and it's very feminine. Nancy's trying to be [Forties movie star] Dorothy Lamour and even on the farm she's still got her coral lipstick."

For research, Summer read diaries and books but missed out on the chance to speak to her grandmother who was in the WLA herself.

"I only found out after I'd filmed Land Girls because she lives in Somerset and we don't communicate a lot," she explains.

"I hope Land Girls is My Darling Buds of May," she continues, referring to Catherine Zeta Jones's success. Before adding without a hint of self-consciousness: "It's a nice little showcase for me really. It's my second big TV project, so I'm as curious as anybody else is as to how well I do."

One person who has an added interest in how well she does is Andrew Lloyd Webber. Only recently, Summer finished recording the new album for Love Never Dies, Webber's much anticipated sequel to Phantom of the Opera, that's due to open in January. She has yet to sign on the dotted line but by all accounts the lead role is hers.

"He's very loyal to people," she says of Lord Lloyd Webber, "which is a lovely trait to have in somebody."

Bearing in mind the graft she has put in over the years success, Summer doesn't come across as bitter about the winners of such shows as Any Dream Will Do and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria. "I wouldn't knock them but I wouldn't go on one of them," is what she does say.

She's equally as careful when asked about the potential for sibling rivalry, particularly in light of the fact that Scarlett played another Julie Andrews role, that of Mary Poppins in both in the West End and Broadway.

"We're quite open about things like that," she says. "We all think very, very highly of each other as performers so it would be a case of she was just more right for the part or you'd ask, 'What did you do that I didn't do?' and talk about it in a rational way rather than flying off the handle."

While she waits for the paperwork for Webber's new production to come through, Summer admits she wouldn't mind trying her hand in a Hollywood musical. "I would love it, I'd absolutely adore it. What could be better for me, doing acting, singing and dancing in a film in Hollywood. It would be absolutely wonderful."

Or even a gritty, indie art house flick perhaps? "Ooh, I'd love that too. I am open to anything. Like I would love to do a comedy with someone like Steve Carell or Will Ferrell just to see how they work, but then I'd love to do a film like Kill Bill and do all that action stuff," she says.

"There's no limit to what you can learn in your life and at the end of mine I hope I can say I've learnt a lot and done all I can."

Extra time - Summer Strallen

:: Summer was born in London on 23 December 1983.

:: She attended the Arts Educational School and Laine Theatre Arts, both in London.

:: She was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her role in The Drowsy Chaperone.

:: She starred with her sister Scarlett in the West End version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

:: She starred alongside Kevin Spacey's film Beyond the Sea in 2004.

 

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