by Blythe Jandoo
Growing up looking the way I do - mixed race Scottish/Indian I really didn’t have many people to aspire to be like on TV or in the media. I was fortunate enough to be taken to the theatre regularly by my family in Scotland but all the lead parts and usually the whole ensemble, were white. I see people as people and don’t think about their skin colour but it was clear to me that for whatever reason people with dark skin weren’t on stage in Britain. I loved dancing, singing and acting but I thought, there’s no point in dreaming too big because I don’t look right. However, it is in my nature to be brave and to work hard at everything I do, so despite my feelings of hopelessness and lack of self confidence, I kept going with it.
I was lucky enough to get into The Dance School of Scotland - a government funded specialist school for dance and musical theatre in Glasgow. There I continued to improve but I never really believed that anything great would come of me. I was then given a place and scholarship at The Arts Educational Schools London where I trained for three years. It was an amazing training and I made friends for life but it could be very mentally and physically challenging. I graduated and began the journey with my amazing agent Olly at Intertalent. I played a fairy in a pantomime, then a train in Starlight Express, then a munchkin/ozian/flying monkey in The Wizard of Oz. I was yet to play a “real person” - there weren’t many stories being told about people who look like me.
I auditioned for the original cast of Aladdin in the West End but was heartbroken when I didn’t get, but I decided put it out of my mind. Following its opening, people would tell me weekly that I should play Princess Jasmine, because of the way I look. When I watched the original animation of Aladdin as a child I was obsessed with Princess Jasmine. She was beautiful, sassy, confident and adventurous, not to mention she had my hair and skin colour! It was a dream role. When I heard they were looking for a Jasmine for Guy Ritchie’s film and were accepting self tapes from anyone, I had to take the opportunity. I submitted a tape of me singing and shortly after I received recall material, which was so exciting! Even to be considered for a lead in a film was a massive achievement. It didn’t go any further so I once again thought the dream maybe just wasn’t going to become a reality.
A few months later I received a call from my friend, Leah Hill with whom I worked with before, saying that they needed some dancers to workshop a scene in the new Aladdin film. It didn’t mean that they would definitely film it but it was well paid and exciting to work with the amazing choreographer, Jamal Sims and his assistants Leah and Nicky. After workshopping, they decided they’d like to film it! Before I knew it I was on a stunning set in the most incredible costumes with Will Smith and Guy Ritchie. I’ve loved every second of my first experience of filming. You see that it really is a group effort; the actors are such a small part of it all. Your day starts at 4am and usually finishes around 8pm, so life outside of it was temporarily non existent (I imagine it must be very hard going for regular film/tv actors and their families).
A few months after filming, I started studying screen acting at Film Club for Actors at the time and was feeling enormously more confident about my acting skills than previous years. The auditions for the Aladdin musical in the West End were announced again. With a renewed self confidence, I was determined to show them my very best self and leave the process with my head held high, even if I wasn’t what they were looking for. I auditioned for the ensemble but after my singing call they asked to see me for Cover Princess Jasmine. I was so excited and I wanted to give it everything. After several rounds and a few days of painful waiting, my agent told me that they wanted to offer me the role of Swing/Cover Jasmine.
I couldn’t believe it. It was finally happening. I would ride on that magic carpet and sing A Whole New World in front of hundreds of people in the West End. It was a dream come true.
I have now been in the show for five months and I love it! I get to play different characters in the ensemble and, finally, Princess Jasmine herself. The costumes are equally as beautiful as those in the film and I have a lot more of them in the show - 15 in total. Lots of quick changes! It’s very a different experience; I am much busier in the musical in comparison to the film, but the film will last forever whereas the musical lasts only lasts in the memories of the audience. I can’t give too much away about the film but it’s definitely different to the original animation, still colourful, exciting and featuring some amazing dancers but with a twist.
However, I love live theatre; the audience’s reactions remind me of why I want to perform and tell stories. These stories, no matter how ludicrous, make people laugh, cry, think, change, fall in love and that’s why I do it. The entertainment industry is so important to humankind. We need to tell the stories of all kinds of people to learn and grow and entertain and share and I would happily continue to work in all mediums. Already more and more films, plays and musicals are being cast colourblind which means that the way someone looks doesn’t affect their chances of getting the role. This is important for me because, as much as I love Princess Jasmine, I want to tell the stories of other amazing women.