Suzie Seweify, set to play Princess Jasmine in the Gaiety Panto’s take on folk-tale Aladdin, has called the set of her new show ‘out of this world’, saying it reminds the actress of her upbringing in Abu Dhabi.
The Irish-Egyptian actor spoke to Travel Ireland ahead of the premiere of the panto, opening at the Gaiety on November 24 with performances lasting until January 5. One imagines organisers will be hoping to cash-in on the success of Disney’s live-action cinematic take on the same story grossing over $1 billion dollars at the global box office this year.
“I loved the movie. I thought that Naomi Scott as Jasmine was amazing in it,” says Seweify, “Also Mena Massoud who played Aladdin is Egyptian. Watching it, I was like: ‘Yes I’m playing Jasmine in the Gaiety Panto and there’s an Egyptian in the Disney Hollywood film. That’s representation!'”
Seweify was born in Bahrain to a mother from near Tallaght and an Egyptian father (whose name happens to be Aladdin). She lived in the country until she was 10, before her dad got a job in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, moving the family there.
Seweify stayed in Abu Dhabi until the end of secondary school. It was there she discovered her love of acting; “I was involved in all the school shows. I went to a British school so I studied acting for my GCSE’s and then my A levels. Then, I decided I wanted to come to Ireland. I felt like there was much more opportunity here than in the Middle East.”
Despite her upbringing in Abu Dhabi, Seweify had many chances to learn about Irish culture: “We came here for Christmas every year. My parents wanted me to be aware of my background – both Egypt and Ireland. We went to Egypt for summers and Ireland for winters. They even took me to the panto once when I was younger. It’s such a magical thing.”
Arriving in Ireland for university, Seweify earned a BFA in Performing Arts from the American College Dublin in 2016. Following this, she went on to complete the two-year full-time Actor Training Programme at the Gaiety School of Acting before landing the role as Jasmine.
According to Seweify, her time in the Middle East helped her prepare for her upcoming role: “I relate to Jasmine in that I’ve seen that side of the world and what it’s like to live as a woman there. She is strong which I love. She’s fearless and wants to pave a new pathway. That’s really inspiring for me.”
“I also have a lot of friends who look like Jasmine as well. Agrabah [the setting of Aladdin] is in some ways similar to Abu Dhabi. It has lots of sand. The colours of the set as well remind me of home.”
While Seweify has had roles in plays before – you may have seen her in Lost and Found at Smock Alley Theatre in 2018 – Jasmine in Aladdin is her biggest role yet. The actress heaps praise on the show’s cast and crew, particular Gaiety Panto veterans Joe Conlan and Nicholas Grennell, for supporting her in the transition to leading lady.
“They’re all amazing. If I ever had a day where I was feeling a bit ‘oh my god’, they were always there for me. [On Conlan and Grennell] It’s almost like they know what I’m thinking. Then they come over and say: ‘Don’t worry about this. It’ll be fine’. I’m very lucky.”
One imagines the pair had advice for Seweify on how to maintain her stamina performing a leading role almost every night for nearly a month in a half: “I have stocked up on vitamin C supplements,” says the actress. “I’m trying to keep my immune system strong. Really though, water and sleep – the basic things – I think will be enough to get me through it.”
Even more impressive is that as Seweify will be performing in Aladdin, she is writing a one-woman show titled Yara. Drawing on her Middle Eastern and Irish experiences and the cultural differences between the two, she is hoping to put the show forward for Smock Alley Theatre’s popular Scene + Heard Festival.
According to Seweify though, the physical toll of the panto season will be outweighed by the joy the show will bring to attendees: “You’re obviously going to be tired either way. You just have to mind yourself and know that it will be worth it for the audiences. I’m really excited to bring magic to lots of people this Christmas.”