Off-screen Oti Mabuse really is just as gregarious and fun as she appears on Strictly. So sitting and chatting to her in the sun in the beautiful gardens at The Watermill is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Oti is here as the choreographer of The Watermill’s summer show Kiss Me, Kate, which begins on July 25, and she is clearly enjoying herself already.
“I just love it here, it looks so beautiful,” she says looking around at where they are preparing to host a wedding blessing a few hours from now.
“It is the people here who make it so nice too. I think they have made the whole experience great and particularly the cast. It is an incredible cast. I come to work just to laugh. I love it.”
Rehearsals began two weeks ago and Oti is clearly in awe of the cast, who will be singing, acting, dancing and playing their instruments through the whole show.
“I have never experienced anything like this in my life and it is just so exciting,” she adds. “You hear them blasting out and singing and then they are playing the clarinet and I think just having so much talent in one play is extraordinary.
“I cannot believe I am among people who can do this.
“I think that the nice thing about musical theatre is it’s a different world and you are part of every single bit of it.
“Knowing where the lights are, how the music is going to sound, putting the numbers together. It’s just you dealing with super talented people.
“It’s about sharing the creativity and positivity and then working hard. And I don’t have to dress up and wear make-up.
“I get to work with James [Bennett, associate choreographer], and we put our ideas together and come up with the routines. He does have to remind me that the actors are also singing and playing instruments thought.
“It is very different to Strictly. When I choreograph on Strictly you don’t speak and I am all about the props and the drama.
“This is my first musical where they have to sing, dance, act, play the instruments. But it’s the best challenge ever; I love a challenge.
“I will definitely go back to Strictly with a broader mind set of things now. It will be really nice going into Strictly this year because I have had the experience of creating two hours of something amazing. It is going to be very exciting.”
She laughs as she remembers her first impressions on seeing the intimate setting inside the Watermill though.
“I am so used to Strictly where it is so massive and then I walked into this theatre and said to James: “We have to redo the whole thing!” she adds.
“But it is so nice that it is so small because it is so intimate, but we really did have to redo some of the choreography.
“It is fun when it is so collaborative. Paul [Hart, the director of Kiss Me, Kate] is so chilled and open and it is the best thing. You see him clapping and you think ‘phew, I have done a good job’.
“I have never been in a theatre with a water mill or a place like this where everyone is like a family. The coolest thing ever is having the actors on site. I love that.”
Oti is currently commuting to and from The Watermill so she still gets to see her husband, Romanian dancer Marius lepure, but he will soon be heading off to work and she will then make The Watermill her home.
“He’s here whenever I need him to be,” she says. “When we are together it’s literally heaven on earth. He travels all over the world teaching, judging and dancing, but when I’m doing Strictly he is always there when I need the mental support. He’s a good man; that’s why I do the three hour commute – for the cuddles.”
And although not on our screens just yet, Oti will be rejoining her Strictly family in a couple of weeks.
She says she has been “really lucky” in the past when it comes to partners. Since joining the show in 2015 she has partnered Anthony Ogogo, Danny Mac, Jonnie Peacock and Graeme Swann and remains good friends with all of them.
Oti and Danny finished second and she cannot speak highly enough of him. They went on to take part in the Strictly Come Dancing – The Live Tour in 2017.
Another partner in dance, albeit for a much shorter time, was Tom Chambers, whom Oti was coupled with for the Christmas Special in 2015.
“That was the best experience ever,” she adds. “I needed a Tom Chambers to come into my life so I knew how to work with a Danny Mac.
“He was so articulate and specific. I was supposed to be the teacher but you learn so much from your celebrity.”
This year Oti has also joined the judging panel on BBC One show, The Greatest Dancer, alongside Cheryl and Matthew Morrison.
Talking through Oti’s upcoming summer schedule with her, it’s easy to see why she wants to make the most of any time she can with Marius, who she married in 2014.
Just three weeks from now she will begin rehearsals for this year’s Strictly and her weekends are taken up with The Greatest Dancer.
She will be at The Watermill until opening night, on July 25th, and will then be splitting her time between all of her commitments, popping back in to the Bagnor playhouse as often as she can to ensure everyone is still doing what they should be.
“I really want to be present in everything I do,” she adds. “Now is the time for me to experience all these work opportunities as you just don’t know what’s going to happen in a few years’ time.
“I love that I can do all these things and me being here just doesn’t feel like work. I love it.”