After leaving Home & Away in 1997 and finishing at the Jacques Lecoq theatre school, Isla moved to London where she got involved in the highly popular traditional English pantomime scene. For those who don’t know, pantomime’s are musical-comedy theatrical productions, often the stories of old fairytales or folk tales such as Cinderella and Dick Whittington. They usually run around Christmas time. Many Australian soap actors try their hand at pantomime, and because of the popularity of Aussie soaps in the UK, they are a big draw! Isla later admitted the main reason she did pantomime was for the money. She also wanted to put into practice some of the skills she learnt at clown school, as well as gain more acting experience in new areas. “Now I can put some of the stage craft I have learned in the past eight months into action,” Isla confessed. After her time at clown school, pantomime seemed like a natural progression for putting her physical comedy skills to best use.
Isla starred as an “updated version” of Jasmine in a production of Aladdin at the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells. It ran from December 18th 1997 to January 4th 1998. John Leslie and Howie Watkins co-starred, and Harold Purvis was the musical director.
Isla starred with Darren Day in this comedy-musical at The Opera House in Blackpool in the late 90’s. It ran from July to November in 1998. Hilary O’Neil and Peter Baldwin also starred in this production. Summer Holiday started off as a 1963 movie starring Cliff Richard, and has since been adapted into stage musicals in the UK several times since the 90’s. The story follows four London bus mechanics who borrow a double decker bus and convert it into a caravan to travel across the European continent. On the way they meet several interesting characters, including a trio of girls, and a runaway singer and her mother and agent. Originally the four mechanics intend to reach the South of France, but they end up in Athens. Isla played the part of the runaway singer, Barbara.
Isla had to sing in this production, and said of that task “I worry about what poor Darren [Day] and the rest of the cast thought. They probably had their ears plugged. I gave it a go though.” She knew it would be great training though, and a positive learning experience. “Summer Holiday is another part of the progress I want to make. It will be more terrific training, especially as I have never sung before,” she said at the time. It was here that she met Darren Day, whom she became engaged to from 1998-2000. Incidently, the twosome attended the live ITV show ‘An Audience With Cliff Richard’ (who starred in the original of this production) in 1999.
Isla starred as Cinderella in this pantomime production which ran from December 18th 1998 to January 24th 1999 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. The rest of the cast consisted of Darren Day (Prince Charming), Barnaby (Buttons), Jon Emmanuel (Dandini), Ruth Madoc (Fairy Godmother), Simon Bashford and Mark Two (Ugly Sisters), and Mr Blobby. Jim Davidson directed a script by Bryan Blackburn. The production featured laser lighting, white ponies, and a puppet show. In it’s review of the production, the Lancashire Telegraph said that “the slapstick was timed perfectly as the pace veered wildly between the lazy and the crazy,” although Cinderella and her dad were “a tad washed out by their colleagues”.
Isla reportedly starred in a production of Così in London in 1999. The play ran from September 7th 1999 to October 3rd 1999 at the New End Theatre in Inner London. Set in the early 70’s, Così is the touching and hilarious story of Lewis, a fresh-faced theatre director, in his first job: directing patients in a Melbourne mental asylum in Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte. But no one, including ringleader Roy, can sing or speak Italian. Meanwhile, the pressure on Lewis from his university friends to organise Australia’s largest Vietnam War protest makes him question where true madness lies: inside or outside the asylum. Tim Roseman directed and Anna Fleischle did the set design. Starring alongside Isla were Guy Bass, Chelsea Blake, Rachel Gaffin, Michael Leslie, Stan Pretty, Dan Skinner and Paul Vaughan-Evans.