Learning to ‘Talk to the Animals’ is quite a challenge… but meeting challenges head on is nothing new for Charlie Turner, who takes to the Dolman Theatre’s stage as Doctor Dolittle from May 31 until June 1.
Charlie, 15, who has been a member of the Sharon Higgins Academy of Dance and Musical Theatre since he was nine, might look like an average teenager, but he has already beaten the odds many times – having been given only a 50:50 chance of surviving long enough to start school.
He was diagnosed before birth with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome – a complex and incurable cardiac defect which means he lives his life with only half a heart. He has undergone three major open-heart surgeries – the first when he was only two days old.
But Charlie has always approached life with a very positive attitude, and doesn’t let his heart condition get in the way of anything he wants to do.
“My heart has given me many more opportunities than it has taken away,” said Charlie. “I can’t do contact sports because of my medication and my pacemaker, but this means I’ve focused elsewhere – on art, music and the theatre.
“I joined Sharon’s Academy when I was nine, and the first time I was out there on the stage, I just felt like I’d come home.
“My first big role was Pugsley in the Addams Family, and the best thing was, nobody in the audience had a clue that the boy they were watching on stage was missing half of his heart. They didn’t applaud because they felt sorry for me, they applauded because I’d done a good job.”
Charlie has been in many productions since then, both with the Academy, and also with Centre Stage Cymru, but Doctor Dolittle is his first title role, and he is enjoying every minute.
“It’s been brilliant,” he explained. “I’ve got more lines than I’ve ever had before and I’ve really enjoyed learning all my songs – especially the one that everyone knows – Talk to the Animals!”
Television presenter and theatre star Phillip Schofield, who played the same role in the West End, has even wished Charlie and the cast good luck on Twitter – although Charlie met him first many years earlier.
“I met Phillip when I was about 18 months old, when my family and I appeared on ‘This Morning’ to talk about my heart condition,” laughed Charlie. “I don’t remember much about it – but I’m told I spent most of my time destroying the set!
“But it’s really special to be playing the same role as Phillip now, and even nicer to receive a good luck message from him. I just hope I can make as good a job of Dolittle as he did!”
Sharon Higgins Musical Theatre present Dr Dolittle Jr from May 31 until June 1 at Newport’s Dolman Theatre. Performances commence at 7.15pm each evening. For ticket details visit dolmantheatre.co.uk