July 31, 2008

Sportacus Brings Lazy Town to Life

There have been stage invasions and general hysteria - all over a bloke who loves his vegetables.

In an age of junk-food and E-numbers, Lazytown has proved one of TV's more surprising success stories.

Set in a remote corner of Iceland, the children's show follows Sportacus - a superhero who always eats his greens and enjoys jogging.

And in a new stage version, Lazytown Live, Julian Essex-Spurrier is adjusting to a landslide of affection as the exercise-obsessed, lycra-suited lead.

"There have been a few incidents where the stage has been invaded by kids - you see the ushers trying to grab them and bring them back," said Julian.

"It's like a children's pop concert."

The actor, previously Rocky in camp musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, won the role at open auditions last year.

Held in London, the event was presided over by the "real" Sportacus, Icelander Magnus Scheving - a former European areobics champion - who conceived the vividly coloured TV programme as a way to tackle childhood obesity.

The stage show, like the programme, follows Sportacus and his right-hand girl Stephanie as they confront their nemesis, Robbie Rotten - who wants all the kids to eat junk food and sit in front of the telly.

With weekly viewing figures of one million in Britain alone, Magnus has become something of an idol - with near royalty status in his homeland.

"Magnus took me up to the TV studios in Iceland to learn how to be Sportacus, which was amazing," said Julian.

"He seems to be the main man up there, everyone knows him. I was stopped at airport security who demanded to know what I was doing in Iceland - as soon as I explained I was seeing Magnus they said 'let him through'.

"The studio is like a theme park, it's the absolute cutting edge of technology and each episode costs 1m to make.

"While we can't match that spending power on the theatre show, we can match the energy."

Conceived as an interactive show - an excuse for much shrieking from the crowd - Julian performs the role 12 times a week to a wall of sound from the over-excited audience.

"I was invited to apply by e-mail," said Julian.

"So when I look back on it all, my involvement has been one big happy accident."

Lazytown Live! is showing on Tuesday, August 19 at 11am, 2pm and 5pm, at the Futurist Theatre, Foreshore Road, Scarborough. Tickets cost pounds10.50 -pounds18.50. To book, call (01723) 374500

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