August 14, 2008

THEATRE – ?My Heroic Fate?

By Viv Hardwick

Viv Hardwick catches up with somersaulting Sportacus, the colourful superhero of children?s TV, played on stage by Julian Essex-Spurrier .

I WAS fated to become Sportacus, ? reveals Julian EssexSpurrier about winning the starring role in the debut UK stage tour of Lazytown Live! , the show based on the colourful live action-puppet- CGI TV phenomenon which has youngsters across the world enthralled.

The incredibly fit performer reveals that he hadn?t seen an episode of Lazytown, which appears on Nick Jnr and CBeebies, until the day he was asked to audition. ?I just happened to see Lazytown on TV in the gym that morning and when I got invited to audition as Sportacus the same day I knew it was fate and that I was going to get the role. Now I?m a hero with children, a few adults who know about the programme and loads of people in the gym, ? explains Essex- Spurrier.

This reveals the fascination with fitness fanatics over the multi- million empire created by Icelandic gymnastics champion Magnus Scheving who was determined to find a way of encouraging children to enjoy exercise.

Scheving created Sportacus with the intention of encouraging children to take more exercise, go to bed at 8.08pm and eat sportscandy (apples, bananas and carrots etc).

Somersaulting Sportacus constantly wins battles in Lazytown against arch-rival Robbie Rotten (Scott Joseph plays the role on tour), who wants the town?s residents to become couch potatoes, without resorting to violence. The result was under-nine-friendly adventures, as Sportacus helps Lazytown newcomer Stephanie (Kimberley Pena) to sing, dance and play her way to beating Robbie Rotten?s latest killjoy scheme.

The touring version of Lazytown is currently at Sunderland?s Empire Theatre until Saturday and then takes in Scarborough?s Futurist as family audiences flock to see an ?a little above average? superhero who is the total opposite to the dark violent antics of the current Batman.

Despite being muscular enough to be in demand as Rocky for The Rocky Horror Show, Essex-Spurrier confesses he was petrified about being judged on his fitness by Scheving.

?He?s created this TV programme and it was really intimidating auditioning in front of Magnus. The physical challenge of the role is daunting.

He can do this one-arm one-leg press-up which I had to learn.

And it?s the kind of thing that if you don?t practise all the time then you lose the ability to do it and you really feel the effort in the abdomen and groin, ? says the man who won the role last year.

Unlike his TV hero, EssexSpurrier has no re-takes on stage and has all Sportacus? stunts, jumps and acrobatics to perform up to ten times a week.

Scheving invited him over to Iceland to view the Lazytown set, when the young theatre star reveals that he made a surprise discovery. ?Magnus told me he sometimes uses stunt doubles for some of the filming which makes me feel a lot better about playing the role on stage. When I started the job I had to stop worrying about becoming Sportacus, but just concentrated on being Sportacus in my own right, ? he says.

Essex-Spurrier has forged a formidable physique using the gym, yoga and the mysterious dance-fight moves of kapawera.

He says: ?I?m actually in awe of the Russian, Vladimir Hub, who plays Roboticus ? an evil robot version of Sportacus which Robbie Rotten invents to provide Lazytown with a superior Superhero ? he?s so fit that he?s kind of acting as the personal trainer to all of us. ? With Essex-Spurrier reaching the last three weeks of his contract in Lazytown Live! his thoughts are turning to taking a break and, possibly, having to get back in shape for a tour of Lazytown Live! 2 next year.

?I think it?s going to be subtitled Robbie Rotten And The Pirates but I don?t know yet if I?m going to be doing the tour next year, we?re just talking about it at the moment. I?m told that the tour could run for 11 months which is a long, long run. This sounds quite tough, but I suppose I?m the most qualified person to play Sportacus at the moment, ? he explains.

And how much impression has Sportacus? healthy-living regime made on him.

?Well I do eat Sportscandy, usually an apple, while waiting in the wings but I haven?t managed to be in bed by 8.08 so far, but I do try and have a lot of early nights, ? Essex-Spurrier explains with a laugh.

|Lazytown Live! runs until Saturday at Sunderland?s Empire Theatre. Box Office:

0844-847-2499 sunderlandempire. org. uk and then Scarborough?s Futurist Theatre on Tuesday, where there are three shows, 11am 2pm and 5pm. Box Office: 01723-365789 or 374500 www. lazytownlive. co. uk

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