‘The Actress’ a poignant comedy by skilled English playwright Peter Quilter. This Leeds graduate’s play strangely had its world premiere in Rio de Janeiro in 2015. Quilter who started as a BBC tv presenter on children’s programmes, now has his plays translated into 27 languages and performed in over 40 countries. Born in Colchester, Quilter’s writing career began at his home in Greenwich in south east London, then after 14 years he emigrated to the Canary Isles.
His most famous Broadway play is ‘End of the Rainbow’, the life and death of Judy Garland. The Koorliny’s version of this play recently won a Finley Award. Internationally, Peter Quilter has twice been nominated for an Olivier Award and his Broadway debut was nominated for three Tony Awards.
The play has been written in two versions; one with a full cast of seven – performed here – and amazingly for a cast of only two.
The Stirling Players are presenting this two-hour comedy / light drama; it can be seen at 8.00 each evening at the Stirling Theatre in Morris Place Innaloo. There are Sunday matinées 2.00 pm.
On arrival, the foyer is decorated in the theme of the play. The décor’s creator, Elaine Morgan, has included wine and brandy bottles, lights, plants, trinkets and costume items. A most impressive piece.
The scene: Backstage in a national theatre as an established actress is about to give her emotional farewell to an acting career and her beloved audiences.
The set: design and construction by Doug McLean, Ian Wilson, Jane Sherwood, Peter Neaves and Richard Norman. Most of the stage is the Star’s dressing room. The pale ivory walls are adorned with posters of famous plays (supplied by Fran Gordon) that have appeared at the theatre. This was an open curtain show so you could hear the gasp of the arriving audience at the set’s massive floral décor (Karin Staflund). The stage was festooned like an upmarket florist’s, with the furniture taking second place to the dozens of blooms and floral arrangements.
To the side of the stage was a symbolic set (20% of the proscenium arch width) of a mansion’s sitting room overlooking ‘The Cherry Orchard’ created by Ursula Kotara. A small area of the lounge furnished with a few quality antiques overlooked a matte black garden scene with a single pine coloured tree’s outline (reverse silhouette) representing the orchard.
The interesting lighting design was by John Woolrych who could easily have employed an ‘on / off’ switch, but instead with clever use of colours and dimmers created terrific mood lighting. The sound design by Ian Wilson – who operated both sound and lighting – handled the well-selected evocative music with a delicate hand.
Stage Manager Janet Brandwood kept things moving.
The quiet, loyal and efficient theatrical dresser, Katherine (Carole Wilson) is laying out Lydia’s costume for the final show before the highly acclaimed actress retires. The actress’s daughter, Nicole (Lara Brunini) calls to see her Mum and wish her ‘good luck’. The scatty and verbose theatrical agent, Harriet (Karin Staflund) arrives in time to hear the theatrical curse and explains how the French use the word merde (shit) as ‘good luck’.
The director’s officious secretary, Margaret (Claire Westheafer) and the retiring actress, Lydia (Jane Sherwood) enter the dressing room. Margaret is asking Lydia to try a new approach to her performance and to create more interest in the final performance. Lydia is not impressed.
As soon as the final curtain falls the actress’s new beau, the elderly but very rich, Charles (David Young) is waiting to whisk her off to Switzerland – but not if Lydia’s lecherous ex-husband, Paul (Gordon Park) has his way.
Director Carryn McLean has been with Stirling Players from day one and this year they celebrate their Golden Jubilee. Many congratulations. On the play’s opening night there were a multitude of eminent local performers – and Jarrod Buttery – who at the interval smiled as they could see themselves depicted by Lydia and her entourage. The script was hilarious with some great putdowns and acerbic comments. The characterisation was beautifully written and developed by the author, then under the supervision and guidance of Carryn the characters vividly came to life. All gave strong performances with subtle delivery of the comedy lines.
The large open stage and myriad of flowers occasionally tended to absorb the verbal projection.
The wardrobe was supervised by Carole Hughes with Jenny Fry taking care of the dame’s dramatic, personality changing wig.
As expected, every character was ‘all smiles’ but as the play progressed, years of bad feelings had to be expressed. So good were the performances, two actors earned spontaneous applause during the play. Congratulations to Jane and Karin for particularly good performances.