Theatre

Rebel Wilson to star in Beauty Queen Of Leenane

Rebel Wilson is a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s work.

Rebel Wilson is a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s work.

Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids) will play the female lead in Martin McDonagh’s Beauty Queen Of Leenane for the Sydney Theatre Company next year.

The star of movies like Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids returns to the Sydney stage in the ink-black modern classic by Academy Award-winning writer McDonagh who wrote and directed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Wilson’s appearance in this Sydney Theatre Company production is sure to generate plenty of interest when it premieres next November.

The play is part of McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy alongside A Skull In Connemara and The Lonesome West.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is one of my favourite plays,” Wilson said.

“It’s a fascinating look at a complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, written by my favourite playwright, Martin McDonagh. He writes such dark and comedic characters – I've always been drawn to his work.

“I am really excited to come back to STC to be in this play. The Beauty Queen of Leenane was the first professional play that I ever saw and I saw it at STC when I was 19 years old. I was just blown away by how talented the actors were and how great the play was. Then I performed in that same theatre a few months later in my first proper play, Spurboard, for ATYP and STC Education. So, to me, the play holds a lot of significance – I hope I can do it justice."

Set in a small Connemara town, Maureen Folan lives a lonely existence with Mag, her aged mother. Their relationship is more arm wrestle than warm embrace. Right now, when Maureen stands the chance of having her first romantic relationship, Mag’s cantankerous presence is simply unbearable.

This play was the first big hit for McDonagh, whose films also include the hugely popular In Bruges.

Rebel Wilson said she is excited by her return to live theatre.

“There’s something very special and very magical about seeing theatre. I can’t get enough of going. I love that it’s an immediate experience. The cool thing is that every theatrical performance is different and it depends on the audience and the energy in the room. Just those people there share that one, live, personal experience. You can’t get that from a movie or a TV show, it’s such a particular experience. That’s why, despite all the technological advances in entertainment, people still go to the theatre – and have for hundreds of years. You just can’t beat the shared experience of theatre.”

The play is part of the Sydney Theatre Company's 2019 Program.

Harp In The South a Strumpet City down under

Kate Mulvany's stage adaptation of Ruth Park's Harp In The South runs until October 6. 

Kate Mulvany's stage adaptation of Ruth Park's Harp In The South runs until October 6. 

 

REVIEW: “There are no literary tricks, no displays of cleverness, little rhetoric and less sentimentality; it is full-hearted, astutely observed writing at its most cohesive.”

Eileen Battersby wrote this in The Irish Times as a way of describing James Plunkett’s novel Strumpet City (successfully adapted for the small screen by Hugh Leonard in the 1970s) but it could have been written about Ruth Parks’ The Harp In The South.

Different city and a slightly different time but its epic scale, its large cast of characters and its essential Irishness are common threads.

Actor and playwright Kate Mulvany, whose resume is already bulging with fine stage work, has adapted Parks’ three novels about the Darcy family - Missus, Harp In The South and Poor Man’s Orange – for the Sydney Theatre Company. The resultant mammoth production, directed by Kip Williams, is both impressive and captivating. 

The ‘harp’ of the title is Ireland and we are taken on a dramatic journey with the Darcy family from the rural NSW town which they first call home in the new land to the grimy Surry Hills slums to which they move in search of a better life.

The streets of Sydney are not paved with gold and their lives become a daily battle of survival against the forces of poverty, violence, illness, crime, alcoholism and prejudice. 

For all that, there’s warmth and humour galore interwoven into the script along with a number of Irish songs tastefully punctuating the narrative.

While this is a new play, it is immediately familiar to Irish eyes with shades of Sean O’Casey, John B Keane and even Brian Friel.

Emigration is a common theme for Irish playwriting but few are written from the perspective of those who have left, looking back over their shoulder, wondering if the grass beneath their feet is indeed greener.

The opening words of Siúil A Rún, which is used to great dramatic effect in Part 1, spell it out.

“I wish I were on yonder hill, ’tis there I’d sit an cry my fill”. 

Harp In The South is steeped in that immigrant world and for the Darcys, Australia does not ultimately deliver a better life for them or their descendants even if the play (six and half hours of theatre delivered over two performances) ends on an optimistic note.

In the #metoo era, Harp In The South resonates with feminist themes as we see three generations of women battle to keep their families together as their own dreams - and indeed their very lives - are sacrificed and abandoned.

As a consequence, the female characters get all the best lines, whether its Anita Hegh’s relentlessly-aproned Margaret Darcy or local brothel madam Delie Stock, beautifully played by Helen Thompson. The Irish-born matriarch Eny Kilker, played by Heather Mitchell chastises her Australian-born son-in-law Hughie Darcy at one point “Irish? You’re about as Irish as a feckin’ wombat!”.

Sadly, the male actors are not given as much to work with as their characters are either lazy drunks, sexual predators or gormless fools. 

Part 1 is a significantly more satisfying theatrical event than Part 2 and one wonders whether the adaptation could have been more comprehensively edited to create one single production.

But make no mistake, this is a very important addition to the Australian theatrical canon and one definitely worth seeing. For all of its Irishness, it is an Australian story. We see the seeds of Sydney’s multicultural, secular, pluralist, hedonistic present through the eyes of these spirited women and the flawed men who take their loyalty and love for granted.

4/5 Stars.

Strong Irish vein to adapted stage epic

Tony Cogin, Anita Hegh and Tara Morice in Kate Mulvany's adaptation of Ruth Park's  The Harp In The South .  Picture: Rene Vaile

Tony Cogin, Anita Hegh and Tara Morice in Kate Mulvany's adaptation of Ruth Park's The Harp In The South.  Picture: Rene Vaile

A MUCH-LOVED story about a Catholic Irish-Australian family living in the Surry Hills slums in the post-war years has been turned into an epic play opening in Sydney this month.

The Harp in the South follows the lives, loves and losses of the Darcy family who run a boarding house amid the dirt and the squalor of inner city Sydney in the 40s and 50s.

It’s a two-part production staged over a mammoth five-and-a-half hours so audiences can be completely immersed in the Darcys’ world.

The play is based on a trilogy of novels by Ruth Park and has been adapted for the theatre by award-winning playwright and actress Kate Mulvany.

Mulvany, who has Irish hertitage, fell in love with The Harp in the South while growing up. She described it as a “beautiful, sweeping, romantic” saga.

“It was just this book that seemed to be on everyone’s shelves,” she said.

“I guess it was because Ruth Park was so inclusive of everyone in her writing. Everyone could find themselves, or their mum, or their grandparents in it. And for me, it was the very, very strong Irish vein that ran through the book in every single way.”

Guy Simon, Contessa Treffone and Rose Riley in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of  The Harp In The South . 

Guy Simon, Contessa Treffone and Rose Riley in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of The Harp In The South

At the heart of the play are first generation Irish-Australians Margaret and Hugh Darcy and their two daughters Roie (Rowena) and Dolour.  Audiences will follow them through the generations and the decades in a production full of song, laughter and tears. Their Irish-born grandma, played by Heather Mitchell, provides many of the gags.

 “She is sort of like an over-sexed, blatantly honest, funny, little tiny creature,”Mulvany said. “I really enjoy it every time she goes on stage.”

There’s also a tight-knit community of neighbours, many of them new immigrants from different parts of the world. The colourful cast of characters includes the notorious madam who runs the brothel next door, nuns and even an Orangeman intent on starting the Troubles in the Darcy’s kitchen.

The Harp in the South reflects the life of Surry Hills’ hardscrabble post-war residents – the Irish, the Chinese and the Europeans – who filled its streets with life and colour.

One of the play’s central themes is community and “finding a place to belong when you’re far from home” and it celebrates the fellowship that existed among the slum dwellers.

But it certainly isn’t all a rose-tinted depiction of the ‘good old days’. 

Along with the grinding poverty, there’s violence, backstreet abortions, alcoholism and death. 

Playwright Kate Mulvany, who adapted Ruth Park's classic for the stage.

Playwright Kate Mulvany, who adapted Ruth Park's classic for the stage.

Park lived in Surry Hills after she got married, so she knew well the conditions firsthand.

“I’m not going to cast it in a golden light because it’s not,” Mulvany said. “Ruth Park never wrote it like that, either. It’s tough.”

In fact, when Park’s book was first published in 1948 there was a public outcry at its depiction of the slums, especially because Park was a New Zealander. And while modern Irish
immigrants might appear to have little in common with the Darcys, Mulvany said they may struggle with some of the same issues.

 “Do you belong either in Surry Hills or in Ireland? How far does Irish blood go?”

Mulvany wrote the play for the Sydney Theatre Company after being given the commission to adapt an epic novel and turn it into event theatre.

Audiences can choose to watch the two-part production on different days, or on the same day with breaks.

The 18-strong cast is in rehearsal and has the enormous task of playing 150 parts, switching costumes and personas for what has been described as one of STC’s most ambitious productions.

 “They’re doing very well with it; I’m sure they’ll turn on me soon,” Mulvany said with a laugh.

The Harp in the South runs from August 16 to October 6 in the Roslyn Packer Theatre.

For more details go to sydneytheatre.com.au

Australian premiere for orphan girls play

The cast of Highlands Theatre Group's production of  Belfast Girls .

The cast of Highlands Theatre Group's production of Belfast Girls.

Belfast Girls, a play which dramatises the journey of Irish orphan girls to Australia in the mid-19th century, is to have its Australian debut this month.

The play, written by Irish playwright Jaki McCarrick and directed by Stephen Clancy, will be performed by the Highlands Theatre Group (HTG) at the Mittagong Playhouse in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

Set in 1850 in the immediate aftermath of the Great Hunger (an gorta mór), the play follows the fortunes of five young women who set sail for a new life in Australia aboard the Inchinnan. Each carried with them their own dark and shocking secrets of the past.

As their journey nears its end, they battle with memories of past deeds and confront the reality of what their futures in this new land, may actually hold for them.

Between 1848 and 1851, more than four thousand young women - many of them orphaned by the famine - left Ireland under the Earl Grey Scheme to boost the female population of the colony.

The HTG is one of only nine amateur theatre groups throughout the world to be given permission to stage the show. 

Writer Jaki McCarrick became interested in the orphan girls story when she found a namesake,  Nora McCarrick, from Easkey, Co Sligo, who had travelled to Australia under the scheme.

"This was a chapter of Irish history I knew nothing about," she said.

"I read what books I could find on the subject, including Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, Thomas Kennelly’s History of Australia, Trevor McClaughlin’s Barefoot and Pregnant? Irish Famine Orphans in Australia, Irish Women and Irish Migration, edited by Patrick O’Sullivan.

"In my reading of these books and articles, I discovered that a particular group of ‘orphans’ were considered to have been especially feisty and colourful, known for their use of obscene language and riotous behaviour. These were known as ‘the Belfast girls’."

The HTG will stage six performance of the play. For more information, and bookings, visit htg.org.au or call Destination Southern Highlands directly on (02) 4871 2888.