Live theatre returns to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with the enchanting new musical The Magician’s Elephant. I spoke to musical theatre star Summer Strallen, who is making her RSC debut as the Countess Quintet.
Based on the book by author Kate DiCamillo, The Magician’s Elephant is a famous American children’s book. “It’s about a town called Baltese which is suffering after the war with great loss,” explained Summer. “A magician in the town conjures up an elephant which causes all kind of extraordinary things.”
Summer Strallen plays the villain of the story, which is a role she has never played before. “She is what a clinical psychologist would call a narcissist. She sort of has a terrible fear that she is going to lose her social standing if anyone else has any social standing at all. So she decides to hold the elephant captive,” said Summer.
Excited to work as a villain, Summer describes herself to usually play the ‘ingénue’ role. “It’s empowering because the Countess has a lot of power,” she said. “I’m very into psychology, wellness and mental health and I believe everyone is born fundamentally good, until they have some sort of trauma. The stresses and strains of society and pressure we put on ourselves is what makes us who we are.
“She is definitely one of those people who is worried that if she doesn’t have the control of the social season then she isn’t worth anything.”
The Magician’s Elephant is a brand new musical taking to the RSC this festive season. With music by Marc Teitler and Nancy Harris, Summer explains that there are many different influences in the show. “There’s a 12 piece orchestra which is a real treat nowadays. I wouldn’t say the music is very commercial or modern, it’s definitely more traditional musical theatre and it’s so beautiful.”
Amplifying the sensational storytelling in the production, the music reflects the shift in moods throughout the show. “As Frank Lester said, ‘if you can’t say it, sing it’ and that’s what we are doing,” said Summer.
This production is described as perfect for families, from those aged 6 to a 106. “There’s definitely a sense of magic, I am such a big magic fan and whenever I see it in rehearsals I feel like an eight year old,” said Summer.
“This show teaches everybody, not just children, that the mystery of life is very important. There is so much more to life than what we see in front of us. When there’s enough faith through a group of people, amazing things can happen. Also it’s really funny and it’s really heartwarming too.
It has absolutely tearjerking moments but also moments of hilarity. But after the pandemic, I think everybody needs this. You have to allow yourself to believe that there is going to be a time where things are better.
It’s a fine line of accepting and embracing what has happened in the past, but learning from it and moving forwards. That’s kind of what the message of our show is.”
Working at the RSC has always been a dream for Summer and she is delighted to be ticking it off her bucket list. “I feel like part of a family. The Royal Shakespeare Company has so much history, I love William Shakespeare’s work and think he is just amazing,” she said.
“Personally for me and my career right now it is very important for me and my mental health to make sure I am in a safe environment. Emotionally, physically and creatively. The RSC are doing what they can to make sure that is what is happening.”
This will be the first big show Summer has performed in since the pandemic and she doesn’t know how she is going to feel that first night. “The last year took away a part of me that I was ready to let go of, it was very painful and upsetting at the time and I survived it and feel ready to open up in a different space,” she said.
“It is really cathartic playing the Countess as I feel she is is a very extreme version of how I felt for a very long time in my adulthood. That desperate need for attention and for status and that is so often something that actors do suffer with. It is suffering, anyone who is living from fear is in suffering and I think and it’s quite cathartic to see the differences in me and the character.”
The Magician’s Elephant is a new musical for all the family reminds us all that even the impossible can be possible when we open our eyes and hearts to those around us. “I would tell people to expect a story being told that might tug on the heart strings a little bit,” explained Summer.
“I want people to leave feeling uplifted and inspired to remember that community is so important in the running of life. It’s about faith, using your imagination and standing up for what you believe in. Plus you get to see some fantastic magic – it is a really beautiful piece and I think everyone will leave feeling very joyful.”
The Magician’s Elephant is open at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 1 Jan 2022, find out more and book tickets on their website.