Miss Saigon - a true musical epic

Zoe Doano
Zoe Doano

Expect musical theatre on the most epic scale as Miss Saigon rolls into Southampton (until March 17).

“It’s an absolutely-massive production,” says Brighton-based Zoë Doano who plays Ellen.

“It is rare that you get a production of this size. This is the Broadway revival, and we really do feel that you are getting the Broadway revival or a West End production.”

Miss Saigon tells the story of the last days of the Vietnam War. 17-year-old Kim is forced to work in a Saigon bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets and falls in love with an American GI named Chris, but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For three years, Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he's fathered a son.

Zoë, who grew up in Bexhill, came to it all on the back of playing Cosette in Les Mis for a year and a half. For Miss Saigon, she is playing the American wife.

“She is a very brave soul. You see only a fragment of her story. The audience is introduced to her in the song I Still Believe. She is portrayed as being in bed with the American skyline behind her, and Kim is in her space too – so you see the dichotomy between them.

“In the second act, she is finding out that Chris has a child and Ellen is seeing what she can do. A lot of musical theatre fans see her as somehow being the other woman, but she is not like that at all. She is very brave and helps Chris – a very brave soul.

“We started rehearsing in March last year, and we started the tour last April, so we have been very nearly a year on the road. But we are quite lucky. Each venue we tend to stay for at least four weeks. I have been on tours where you change where you are every week, so this is very different.

“But it is great that the audience changes because you find the energy of the audience massively affects the show. We have played some huge, huge venues like Cardiff and also some huge venues that seem more intimate, like Edinburgh. Things like the height and the width of the theatre really change things, and that’s what helps keep it all fresh.”

Helping keep it fresh too is that Zoë is constantly finding new things to discover in her character.

“I always used to be cast as a young ingenue soprano, and to be Ellen was such a big change. She is so much more earthy and so much more weighty. She deals with a lot of emotional information in such a short space of time.

“Playing the role you have got to try to balance what she is going through and dealing with and her story and her emotions with keeping happy yourself. You have got to make sure that you play Ellen at night and quickly get back to being Zoë and make sure you remember to smile again!

“But fortunately, I have got a lot of things that I love to do. I am a big yoga lover and I love reading. I love to read lots of new plays. When you are in a production for as long as this, I think it is important to be reading new plays to keep that side of your brain ticking. You are in one role for a long time and that role doesn’t change, so it is good to keep in touch.”

Zoë finishes her stint in the show at the end of April: “I had the choice to do another year but as much as I absolutely love it, I want to continue to love it. Ellen is such an emotional rollercoaster that it was important to give myself a bit of a rest!”

Tickets for Miss Saigon are on sale from Mayflower Theatre box office 02380 711811 or online at mayflower.org.uk.