Former Hollyoaks star on playing Ulla in The Producers at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage
PUBLISHED: 10:27 21 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:13 21 August 2017
Mel Brooks musical comedy The Producers opens at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage next week. We caught up with cast member Ali Bastian, who stars as Ulla.
Watching a close friend on stage at the Gordon Craig has ultimately led to Ali Bastian appearing at the same theatre.
The former Hollyoaks star will play sexy Swedish secretary Ulla in The Producers in Stevenage.
And it was seeing ex-Emmerdale actress Gemma Oaten tread the boards in Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce at the GCT last October that planted the seeds in Ali’s mind to one day appear on the same stage.
“The lovely Catherine Lomax, who is producing and directing it, got in touch with my agent and asked if I’d come and have a meeting,” explained Ali during a break in rehearsals last week.
“I saw a girlfriend of mine [Gemma Oaten] in Bedroom Farce here last October and it was the first time I’d been to this theatre.
“And I just remember thinking, ‘God, this is lovely’. You know how you have a little think to yourself, ‘what a lovely stage, what a lovely auditorium, I’d love to work here’. I just remember having that little feeling myself.
“And I don’t know, I must have put it out into the universe. I got a call from Catherine, came and met here, and loved the feel of the place.
“There’s a lot of people behind the scenes very passionate about this project.”
In playing Ulla, Ali will be following in the footsteps of Lee Meredith, who appeared in the original Mel Brooks film, and Uma Thurman, who played the role in the 2005 movie version of the musical stage show.
Ali admits she hasn’t seen the show on stage before, but added: “It’s such a fun part to play. I’m really, really enjoying it.
“It’s full on as it’s a quite short rehearsal period. I can’t believe how much we’ve done already.
“My head’s whirring… It’s full of Swedish!”
Ali has brushed up on her Swedish accent in preparation for The Producers after almost getting caught out during filming of a movie in which she has to speak Russian but didn’t realise until looking at the script again the night before shooting those scenes.
“In my head I thought we’d be playing it in English,” Ali explained.
“So I went and asked the director, ‘is this scene in Russian?’
“That night I was frantically trying to learn Russian on Google translate.
“I had these amazing Russian guys in the scenes with me who were coaching me. So I was basically playing scenes entirely in Russian, delivering my lines in Russian and sounding like I could speak Russian.
“I always have that sense of flying by the seats of my pants.”
After landing the part of Ulla a few months back, Ali admitted: “After that, I went to a dialect coach to get on top of this Swedish accent.
“I’ve tried to learn the subtleties of their dialect so I can choose where to send it up.
“Everything is turned up to 11 on this show.”
Having first found TV fame as Becca Dean in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks, Ali played PC Sally Armstrong in ITV drama series The Bill from 2007 to 2009, and has since made guest appearances in Death in Paradise, Doctors and Jonathan Creek.
Just weeks before starting rehearsals in Stevenage, Ali also appeared in a Holby City episode, playing the exotic sounding Chevonne Lumionne.
Playing Ulla, or to give the character her full name, Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, allows Ali to showcase some of the moves she learnt on Strictly Come Dancing.
Partnered by professional Brian Fortuna, Ali waltzed her way into the Strictly semi-finals in 2009 and has continue dancing since leaving the BBC One show.
She landed the part of Roxie Hart in a production of Chicago, and also appeared in West End dance show Burn the Floor.
“We’ve just done a cheeky little Samba downstairs,” said Ali to me during day six of rehearsals.
“I will definitely be dancing in this!
“I’ve got two main numbers. I’m really excited to get stuck into those.”
Ali loved her Strictly journey and still has the dancing bug.
“Funny things happen with that show quite early on. It sort of happens to everyone simultaneously that you suddenly get the sense that this is serious now, that ‘this is a competition’.”
A number of Strictly contestants have had some form of previous dance training, but nothing quite like the full-on experience of the hit BBC One Saturday night entertainment show.
Ali said: “As a child I went to stage school. I think a lot of actors have had basic movement training and dance training. But nothing like that intensity [on Strictly], or ballroom or Latin.
“I still love it. I’ve kept it up as much as possible. I do salsa quite a lot. I really enjoy it.
“Since Strictly I’ve gone out socially dancing. I can go to a night out, like a salsa night, and just dance.
“I’d never have done that before. That’s also where you really learn how to be led – to lead and follow.
“That’s the only thing with Strictly, you really learn the choreography and not so much the technique of lead and follow.
“That for me came later. But I really enjoy it now that I can just dance socially.”
Despite being set in America more than 50 years ago, Ali feels Mel Brooks’ musical comedy The Producers, with its bad taste Springtime in Hitler show, is still relevant to events happening in the world today.
“Is it controversial now? It does seem quite surreal some days to be coming into rehearsals and rehearsing this show that is set in 1959 and to be tackling issues that are suddenly on our front pages today.
“It is astonishing to me and it does feel surreal. How have we got here?
“Actually, this couldn’t have come at a better time to be doing a show like this.
“It’s like, ‘come on everybody, look at how ridiculous this is’.”
“It shines a massive light on the whole lunacy of it. And I’m proud to be part of that right now.”
Ali added: “You read all these horrendous headlines of what is going on in the States and closer to home and it would be easy to want to turn a blind eye to it, but you just can’t now. No one can.
“Now, if anyone has a platform to speak up, they kind of need to.”
For those who have not seen The Producers before, Ali says it will be “a rip-roaringly great night of entertainment”.
“I think audiences will be rolling in the aisles,” she said.
“It’s hilarious and it is also very relevant at the moment but in a hilarious way.
“There’s lots of singing and dancing, and show tunes and high kicks, tap dancing and sequins and showgirls... It’s got everything.”
• The Producers opens at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage on Tuesday, August 29 and runs until Saturday, September 9.
Visit www.gordon-craig.co.uk to book tickets.