Matthew Mitcham interview

When it comes to slashie careers, Olympic diver/cabaret artist is one of the more unusual ones. For Matthew Mitcham, the leap from the diving board to the stage began with the ukulele.

Matthew Mitcham. Photo: John McRae

Matthew Mitcham. Photo: John McRae

“I had to take three months of bed rest because I had stress fractures in my spine,” says Mitcham, who famously won gold with an unprecedented perfect score at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“That was in 2010. Because I was going stir crazy I bought a toy ukulele for $24 and started teaching myself how to play it by watching YouTube videos. And from there, that ignited a hunger for more information so I went on these little learning adventures and taught myself music theory, chord theory and jazz theory. It was insatiable, I was like a sponge and couldn’t stop learning.”

Ever the perfectionist, Mitcham spent hours fine-tuning his playing and during the 2012 London Olympics posted video clips on YouTube of him playing Beyonce’s Single Ladies and the Family Guy theme tune from his room in the Olympic Village.

To his surprise they went viral. Musical director Jeremy Brennan saw them and invited him to play in a couple of cabaret nights at Sydney’s Slide Cabaret.

“From there the Melbourne Cabaret Festival invited me to MC and perform at their closing gala in 2013 and the producers were so impressed that they asked me if I would consider turning the book (his revealing 2012 autobiography Twists and Turns) into a cabaret show,” says Mitcham.

They put him in touch with Rhys Morgan (aka cabaret artist Spanky) to help write the show and director Nigel Turner-Carroll, while Mitcham approached Brennan to be involved as musical director.

The resulting show Twists & Turns premiered at the 2014 Perth Fringe World Festival where it won Best Cabaret and has since toured widely. Mitcham is back on the road with it again now. After selling-out in Melbourne, he plays Brisbane and Perth before winding up in Sydney at the end of this month to perform as part of the Mardi Gras Festival.

Mitcham, who turns 27 next month, has quite a story to tell. Behind his Olympic triumphs, the openly gay diver – who was brought up in Brisbane by an alcoholic single mother – was struggling with low self-esteem, depression and drug abuse, including crystal meth addiction.

As he did in his autobiography, he discusses all this in his show with an unflinching, winning honesty. He is equally forthcoming in an interview situation, replying openly and straightforwardly when questioned but without it ever feeling like he is grandstanding or dramatising. Nor does he seem remotely bitter.

“I’ve had really good experiences with being very candid in the public spotlight with the coming-out just before Beijing,” he says. “That was received so well by the public and handled so well by the media, (I received) just unanimous support. That was really heart-warming and gave me the confidence that I could be vulnerable with the public and the media and that I would be held and supported. So when it came to writing the book, I was a bit more comfortable to be as candid as I was,” he says.

“There were some pretty serious topics that I spoke about but I kind of thought there’s no point writing a biography if you are going to skim over things. So I went into quite a lot of detail because I felt if the potential benefit to others outweighs the potential detriment to myself then I really ought to share it, and so I just shared everything.”

Mitcham admits that at the last minute he got cold feet and almost deleted the darker, more confronting material but finally decided to go ahead.

“I’m so glad that I did it, because it opens up a dialogue and it gives people permission to be able to share their stories. I’ve had a lot of people share their stuff with me after the show,” he says.

“I think there is a positive outcome to my story and I guess that means it’s easier to share the harder stuff because there is light at the end of the tunnel. I think it is a positive story and an encouraging story.”

Matthew Mitcham. Photo: John McRae

Matthew Mitcham. Photo: John McRae

Mitcham certainly seems to be happy. Despite a decidedly unconventional upbringing and some seriously troubled years, he now appears centred and levelheaded – though he admits to a pathological need to be loved. He is still diving, having won silver and gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and he is in a settled eight-year relationship with Lachlan Fletcher who tours with him on Twists & Turns, looking after “logistics” and merchandise.

– “I think I’ve always been a performer, a show pony. If you were going to psychoanalyse it, it would be searching for validation and positive reinforcement” – 

In putting the show together, Morgan wrote a first draft, which he and Mitcham discussed. “We got up to about four or five drafts before we knew the show well enough to stop using it,” says Mitcham.

“We wanted to keep the story-telling more natural. I’m not an actor so it’s better for it not to be a set script because I don’t have the practice to deliver a script naturally. Now it’s just me telling the story.”

Morgan – in his trash-drag Spanky guise – also features in the show, personifying Mitcham’s childhood invisible friend and his inner demons, as well as singing backing vocals. The show also includes a trampoline (Mitcham was a trampoline gymnast before he began diving, winning an event at the 2001 World Junior Championships), an eclectic selection of songs, and some pre-recorded voiceovers by his mother Vivienne (who he describes as “nuttier than a bag of trailmix”).

One of the stories Mitcham tells is spending six months without electricity as a five-year old when his mother had an argument with the electricity supplier. During this time, she bought a wind-up gramophone on which they used to listen to old records.

His mother was certainly eccentric, I suggest. “That’s the diplomatic way of putting it,” says Mitcham with a laugh. “But she has given me some fantastic anecdotes to tell in the show.

“Recording the voiceovers was so painful. She’s not done anything like that before. I had my laptop and my microphone and she was just bouncing all around the living room doing them over and over again. Nigel (the director) had to stand in the other room to try and keep a straight face. It was like a puppy with the worst ADHD you’ve ever seen. It was hilarious.”

Mitcham says that his mother likes the show. “She was even quite supportive of everything I put in the book because it is my story and she’s at peace with all that stuff from my childhood. She knows she could have done things better but we both know she did the best she could at the time. She’s done a lot of work on herself since, in the last seven years or so. She’s gotten sober as well and done a lot of personal development. She’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s and stuff so she’s working on those kinds of behavioural things as well.

“Before the book came out I gave her the manuscript because I was kind of worried about how she might feel about it all and after she read it she said, ‘Oh God! I thought you were going to be so much harsher than that, you could have been, I wouldn’t have blamed you.’ I think she’s a lot harder on herself but she is forgiving herself,” says Mitcham.

The songs in the show are well-chosen and include Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, Pink Martini’s Sympathique (one of his mother’s favourites), Nick Cave’s Water Song, the Spice Girls’ Too Much and New Order’s True Faith among others. Brennan also uses some Erik Satie and Philip Glass as underscoring.

Another telling song choice is Alanis Morrisette’s Perfect. “I felt there was no way we couldn’t have that in the show because it is perfect. It basically tells my story,” says Mitcham.

As for his singing, it has developed steadily since he began performing due to “hours and hours of practice” with Brennan.

The quest for perfectionism again? “Yes exactly,” says Mitcham. “I think it’s a pathological need for people to love me. It’s the perfectionist in me. I don’t like to do anything half-hearted.”

Having contemplated retirement after the London Olympics, and again after the recent Commonwealth Games, Mitcham is still diving – for now.

“I’ve been on reduced training since the Commonwealth Games because I have been trying to rehabilitate an injury,” he says.

“I tore a tendon in my elbow. I was dealing with that all last year. I got to the point where I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve in sport (having won a gold medal) at the Commonwealth Games so I’m just about ready to let the sport go but I’ve been talked into staying until (the Olympic Games in) Rio, which I’m OK with. But my condition was that I want to be injury free before I begin ramping up the training again.

“So I did this fairly new procedure where they harvested some tendon cells from the wrist and they injected those cells into the tear in my elbow tendon and hope that fills in the gap and repairs the injury.”

In the meantime, he has been training in the day while performing at night. “Diving Australia has been really wonderful. They have facilitated that I can train at any sports institute wherever I go with the show,” he says. “I don’t think I have totally integrated into the cabaret life, which involves a lot of late nights and alcohol. Everyone else goes out drinking (after the show) and I go back to the hotel and go to sleep so I can get up in the morning for training.”

The move from diving into cabaret wasn’t actually such a big leap, says Mitcham.

“I think I’ve always been a performer, a show pony. If you were going to psychoanalyse it, it would be searching for validation and positive reinforcement. They way I was discovered diving was because I was at the Chandler Aquatic Centre in Brisbane – which is one of the national diving centres but used to be open to the public – and everyone was doing bomb dives.

“I was doing double flips into bomb dives and showing off and one of the national coaches happened to be walking along the pool deck and called me over and said, ‘how do you know how to do that?’ So I started diving the next week. And that’s because I was showing off and performing. I’ve always felt that diving is a kind of performance art.”

Twists & Turns plays at the Brisbane Powerhouse on February 5 & 6, at the Perth Fringe World, February 10 – 16, and at Sydney’s Seymour Centre, February 26 – 28

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Rachel Gordon interview

Rachel Gordon is about to star in Nick Enright’s 1989 rom-com Daylight Saving for Darlinghurst Theatre Company. She talks about the play and the many diverse credits in her bio.

Rachel Gordon. Photo: Helen White

Rachel Gordon. Photo: Helen White

Logie Award nominee Rachel Gordon has some pretty interesting things in her bio besides her many acting credits.

In 2007, she was personally trained by Al Gore and The Australian Conservation Foundation as a presenter for The Climate Change Project.

The following year she spent a month walking the Great Wall of China with various celebrities to raise money for Olivia Newton-John’s Cancer and Wellness Centre.

“Joan Rivers was on it. She turned up and said, ‘When you said the Great Wall I thought you said the Great Mall. What am I doing here?’ She was on the Great Wall of China walking along in her high heels. She was hilarious.

“I’m very lucky to have had a lot of incredible experiences like that,” says Gordon.

And don’t be surprised if Gordon one day adds “politician” to her c.v.

Her great grandfather was Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, while his wife, Dame Enid Lyons, was the first woman in the Australian parliament.

“That’s really cool for a feminist, isn’t it?” says Gordon.

“They died before I was born but I’d like to get into politics and I know my brother is very keen as well so it might be in the blood.

“I have a lot of things I would like to change. I really love that Ghandi quote: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ There’s no point sitting back and pointing the finger at politicians. I should probably get up and do something, so who knows?”

For the time being, however, Gordon continues to be in demand as an actor.

She is about to star in a production of Nick Enright’s 1989 hit rom-com Daylight Saving directed by Adam Cook for Darlinghurst Theatre Company with a cast including Helen Dallimore, Belinda Giblin and Ian Stenlake.

“Ian Stenlake and I actually went to NIDA together and lived together for a while – not as a couple but in a share house with lots of other students. We’ve never worked together professionally so that’s really nice,” she says.

Gordon is best known for her television work in shows such as The Moodys, Blue Heelers and Home and Away. She has just finished filming a new Channel Seven series called The Killing Field with Rebecca Gibney and Peter O’Brien in which she plays Gibney’s character’s sister.

She has also done plenty of theatre over the years.

“When I first came out of NIDA that’s all I did,” she says. “It took a long time to get much TV work and then that was what I did for a period of time. But over the last couple of years I’ve been doing quite a lot of theatre again and I absolutely adore it. There’s nothing like having an audience in the room with you.”

Enright (The Boy From Oz, Cloudstreet, Lorenzo’s Oil) wrote Daylight Saving for his close friend, actor Sandy Gore. At the time, he was dispirited by his lack of playwriting success and he considered the play a last ditch effort. Fortunately it proved to be a hit, leading to a stellar career. Sadly, he died in 2003 from melanoma, aged 52.

“It’s such an honour to play this role especially because Nick Enright was so dearly loved by pretty much everybody in the theatre community that met him,” says Gordon.

“But I was terrified when I actually got the role because Sandy is such a dear friend and I so want to do the play and her justice. So I called her and told her and she’s been very supportive.”

Gordon plays a successful Sydney restaurateur who contemplates having a fling with an old flame (Stenlake) while her husband is overseas on one of his many business trips. But their candle-lit dinner is constantly interrupted.

“There’s this beautiful feeling in the play, which I think Nick fostered in a lot of his work of really seizing the moment – as he did in his own life. He filled it with so much and affected so many people on so many levels through his generosity of spirit, his largesse, his intellect and his humour. He gave us these wonderful plays and he taught thousands of students.

“There is a real sense of urgency in the play. Felicity, my character, has one night to perhaps live out her dream of being with this ex-flame. We all have these moments in our lives where you think ‘what would have happened if I had taken a different turn?’

“It’s a very charming romantic comedy and I think it will make people laugh and feel happy and hold their dear ones close,” says Gordon.

Gordon’s own dear ones include her two children with actor Jon Sivewright, who she met on Home and Away.

“I’ve got a three-year old and a ten-month old. He’s with the babies at the moment being a very good father,” she says. “They probably feel like they’re on holiday getting everything they want!”

Daylight Saving runs at the Eternity Playhouse until November 30. Bookings: darlinghursttheatre.com or 8356 9987

A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on October 26

Blood Brothers at the Hayes

Michael Cormick, Blake Bowden, Helen Dallimore and Bobby Fox. Photo by Kurt Sneddon

Michael Cormick, Blake Bowden, Helen Dallimore and Bobby Fox. Photo by Kurt Sneddon

The Lion King is now the top-selling musical of all time but only three musicals have played in London’s West End for more than 10,000 performances – and Blood Brothers is one of them.

Written by Willy Russell (Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine), Blood Brothers ran there for more than 24 years, becoming London’s third longest-running show after The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables.

There hasn’t been a professional production in Sydney for 20 years, but Blood Brothers is about to make a return, with Enda Markey producing it at the Hayes Theatre Co in February.

The show has attracted a top-drawer cast headed by Helen Dallimore (Wicked in London, Legally Blonde) as Mrs Johnstone, Michael Cormick (Mamma Mia!) as the narrator, and Blake Bowden (South Pacific) and Bobby Fox (Jersey Boys) as the twins Edward and Mickey.

The cast also includes Bronwyn Mulcahy as Mrs Lyons, Phillip Lowe as Mr Lyons, Christy Sullivan as Linda, Jamie Kristian as Sammy and Erin James as Donna Marie. Andrew Pole directs with Michael Tyack as musical director.

Blood Brothers began life in 1982 as a school play, before debuting as a musical in Liverpool the following year. It tells the story of fraternal twins separated at birth when their mother, Mrs Johnstone, cannot afford to keep them both.

Growing up just streets apart they become best friends, despite being divided by class, but fall for the same girl, with tragic results.

Boisterously funny and gut-wrenchingly sad with an authentic working class voice, the show is full of sweet, simple melodies that hit a nerve.

Blood Brothers was last staged in Sydney in 1994 with a cast including Delia Hannah and David Soul. A 1988 production starring Chrissie Amphlett is now part of Australian theatre folklore because a young Russell Crowe was sacked for head-butting Peter Cousens, his on-stage twin.

Markey has loved the show for yonks. “I saw it when I was nine and it was one of the most defining theatre-going experiences of my life,” he says.

In 1997, he worked on an Irish production as an assistant to Rebecca Storm, who played Mrs Johnstone.

“It’s such a great show. I believe that it’s among the top five musicals ever written in terms of the way it’s structured and its characters. There’s no fat on it. When I was looking for a project to produce I was thinking ‘what was the show that if someone else produced it I’d be devastated?’” says Markey.

Cormick, who plays the narrator, has seen the show three times. “The first was in London with Kiki Dee and David Soul,” he says.

“I remember walking out at interval thinking ‘this is fantastic’. But at the end I couldn’t speak for 10 minutes, I was that emotional. I thought then: ‘one day I would love to play the narrator.’”

Bowden has never seen the show live but was just as emotional when he watched a recording of it recently. “I got completely hooked,” he says. “I laughed the whole way through, it’s so funny, but I think I cried about three times as well.’

Dallimore auditioned for the show in London four years ago and saw it then.

“I loved it. It’s beautifully written. (Mrs Johnstone) is really a gift of a role, a bit of a bucket list role I think,” she says. “As a mother it’s going to be quite a harrowing experience to go through every night but there are a lot of laughs in it as well and she’s got a real warmth and humour.”

Markey, who is presenting it with a cast of nine and four musicians, believes that it will sit well in the intimate 100-seat Hayes Theatre.

“It was written for an intimate space, though not quite as intimate as this. (Russell) wrote it as a school play, then they expanded it for the Everyman in Liverpool, which was a 300 or 400-seater,” he says.

“It was only when it became a hit that they pumped a lot of air into it for the West End. So I think the Hayes brings it back more to where it started.”

The Hayes burst onto the Sydney musical theatre scene in January with a stunning production of Sweet Charity, which won three Helpmann Awards including Best Director for Dean Bryant.

For the four leading players, the chance to perform in a musical at the Hayes was part of the appeal of Blood Brothers.

“It really is the hottest new spot and it felt like it happened overnight actually and that Sydney really embraced it,” says Bowden who performed his cabaret show Mario there recently.

Sweet Charity let everyone know that really you can do anything you want there, with The Drowsy Chaperone afterwards and all those cabaret shows. It’s a malleable venue that now has this street cred,” says Fox.

“I think it’s the perfect place for (Blood Brothers),” says Cormick. “I’ve been looking for a project to do there so when this came up I thought, ‘this is feel absolutely right on both levels.’ I think it’s perfect that it’s in a small, intimate theatre but this piece is very much about storytelling. You don’t need very much more than the actors.”

“It’s amazing how a different energy can transform a space: the emotional energy and passion of the people behind it,” says Dallimore. “It’s been there forever and it’s always been a great little space but it’s just got this magic in it now. There is a buzz as soon as you walk in.”

As a producer, Markey believes that the Hayes is an invaluable addition to the musical theatre scene.

“I think for larger musicals the Hayes is really important because it allows the industry to thrive and to nurture new talent and to be a little bit more daring. I think we really need it and as we’ve seen the public have just embraced it.”

Blood Brothers plays at the Hayes Theatre Co, February 6 – March 8, 2015. Bookings: hayestheatre.com.au or 8065 7337

A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on September 28

From Kath to Margaret Thatcher, Jane Turner loves wigging it

Jane Turner as Margaret Thatcher. Photo: supplied

Jane Turner as Margaret Thatcher. Photo: supplied

Jane Turner loves nothing better than a wig to help her get into character. The frizzy perm was the crowning jewel in her creation of foxy moron Kath Day-Knight in Kath & Kim.

So playing Margaret Thatcher with her famous, immaculate helmet of hair has obvious appeal.

As revealed in the Sunday Telegraph, Turner is one of the actors in the Sydney season of Rupert, David Williamson’s cabaret-infused stage biography of media titan Rupert Murdoch.

The cast is led by James Cromwell (Farmer Hoggett in Babe) as Murdoch and Guy Edmonds as his younger self, with Turner playing Thatcher and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch among other roles.

Rupert premiered at the Melbourne Theatre Company last year. It has since toured to Washington and will go to London’s West End next year. But first it has a four-week season in Sydney.

Though reviews have been mixed, with some critics considering it as little more than an animated Wikipedia entry, audiences have embraced it (as is usually the way with Williamson).

Turner saw the play in Melbourne and found it “thoroughly entertaining”. Asked to take over the roles of Thatcher and Dame Elisabeth, she says she didn’t hesitate.

“I love doing a lot of different roles in a show. I think it’s always great fun, particularly doing it in a fabulous, funny wig.”

Asked if she’ll have several wigs in Rupert, she laughs. “I hope so. I cannot perform without a wig. That’s in my rider!

“There is an amazing difference between a wig that is funny and a wig that isn’t funny. To the naked eye it might look exactly the same wig but when you put them on you just know if they are funny or not,” says Turner.

“I had some wigs (for Kath) along the way that weren’t funny. The original, scrawny, nylon wig that we used for the first series was pure comic gold. By the end (of the series) I was wearing that wig back to front because it was so stretched in the front of it. It was very funny. It’s still in my cupboard like an old, dead rat. I love it.”

Turner has plenty of experience playing real people from her sketch show days in Fast Forward and Full Frontal when she parodied the likes of Lady Di, Ita Buttrose, Sharon Stone and even Woody Allen.

When it comes to Thatcher, she says: “it’s all in the wig again because her hair was pretty distinctive, and also the voice. And she had a bit of a waddly walk, similar to mine. But hopefully I’ll get a chance to bring something more than just a sketch quality.”

Turner was last seen on the Sydney stage in 1999 in Ben Elton’s Popcorn. But she says she loves returning to the theatre when she can. In 2010, she performed in Tommy Murphy’s Holding the Man in London.

Next year, she stars in Jumpy, an English comedy by April De Angelis, for the Sydney and Melbourne Theatre Companies, in which she plays a woman facing the mother of all mid-life crises and battling with her teenage daughter.

“That will be so much fun. It’s a very meaty role for me,” says Turner.

As for a return of Kath & Kim: “never say never,” says Turner.

“We are having a nice lie down and trying to kill them off but they keep rearing their ugly heads. We do like them so who knows. I love doing Kath and I find her so easy to write for too. One day we might put her in a different format. She could have her own Tonight show or something.

“A long time ago we talked about a stage play. We love the cast and we love writing for them so we may do something, but who knows. At the moment we are happy to do other things.”

Rupert is at Sydney’s Theatre Royal, November 25 – December 21. Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100

A version of this story appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on September 14

 

 

Guy Edmonds has wicked fun with The Witches

Guy Edmonds in The Witches. Photo: Brett Boardman

Guy Edmonds in The Witches. Photo: Brett Boardman

As a child, Guy Edmonds loved Roald Dahl’s books with their twisted stories full of irreverent, sometimes grotesque humour.

“They are a challenge to young people. It’s not sugar and lollipops – it’s sugar and lollipops and wolves,” he says with relish.

Edmonds is best known for his role in the ABC’s A Moody Christmas and for playing Timothy Conigrave in the original Australian stage production of Holding the Man, a role he later reprised in London.

Among his many other credits, he also portrayed the young Rupert Murdoch in David Williamson’s play Rupert for Melbourne Theatre Company last year, and when the production toured to Washington in the US. He will feature in Rupert again in the forthcoming Sydney season at the Theatre Royal (November 25 – December 14).

But first, he is giving full vent to his love of Dahl in a one-man stage version of The Witches, adapted from a play by David Wood.

A sell-out hit in Melbourne in June, with interest now from London and New York, The Witches arrives at the SBW Stables Theatre later this month just in time for the school holidays.

Dahl’s witches don’t wear black pointy hats and ride broomsticks. They disguise themselves as ordinary women but they are every bit as evil. Revolted by children, who smell like dog droppings to them, they plan to get turn all of England’s youngsters into mice. A young boy and his grandmother, who accidentally overhear their plot, set out to stop them.

The show is the brainchild of director/choreographer Lucas Jervies and began in 2012 as a project at NIDA where he did the directing course.

“Egil Kipste, the head of the directing course, gets me in from time to time to work with the directing students,” says Edmonds.

“He was doing an audition workshop with them so he said, ‘here’s a real actor, give them an audition piece and work with them’ so it was like a mock audition.

“So I worked with all the directors one of them being Lucas and he gave me the Grand High Witch’s monologue (from Wood’s play) when she enters the ballroom: ‘You may ree-moof your gloves! You may ree-moof your shoes!’

“I did this crazy (read) – Lucas says like an ape crossed with Hitler. I just say a camp Hitler. Lucas says in that moment he actually thought (a one-man version) might be achieved, because he’d toyed with the idea but couldn’t quite visualise it.”

Edmonds plays nine characters including the young boy who narrates the tale, his chain-smoking grandmother, the greedy kid Bruno, a French waiter and the evil Grand High Witch.

Edmonds delineates them without changing costumes, but vocally and physically.

“It’s not a dance piece or physical theatre but there’s a lot of movement in it, more than I would normally do in a play,” he says.

“There are very clear voice shifts between the characters but when it moves at such a rapid-fire pace you need physical signifiers as well. That’s where Lucas was great because he has a dance background as a choreographer and an ex-dancer. He works at Sydney Dance Company now (as rehearsal director). So he was really good to work with. As an actor you consider what your body is doing to a point but, for me, never in the way that I have done with this show.”

As for props, he has a large chest, a colander, a saucepan, a ball of twine, a toothbrush and a paint tin.

“Every object has seven or eight meanings as the play goes,” says Edmonds. “When we started, the chest was full of stuff and in the first week we just threw everything at the wall just to see which would stick and it was a process of elimination. We had a tennis racket and said, ‘OK, well we use the tennis racket for that but is there a way to use the saucepan instead?’ So it was a process of whittling away until we got to these five essential props.

“It’s really just the power of the imagination. Pure storytelling. It’s the kind of show that if the lighting board went down and all we had were the house lights and none of my props showed up I could still do it.”

The show, which runs for a breathless 40 minutes, is recommended for all the family from age six upwards.

“The brief for the show was to make adults feel like children and I would like to think that we’ve succeeded in that,” says Edmonds.

“It’s certainly a show for all ages but a wonderful show to bring young people to. When we did the Malthouse season (in Melbourne) one night we had three generations of a family – there were 10-year old kids, the parents and the grandparents and by the end they all had the same expression on their face.”

Edmonds will be returning to Griffin next year as part of the 2015 Griffin Studio artistic development program.

“My friend and writing partner Matt Zeremes (with whom he co-starred in Holding the Man) are Boomshaka Films, a production company that develops TV and film,” says Edmonds.

“Through our one-year residency at the Griffin Studio we are going to develop a musical  set on Christmas Island. It’s a musical comedy – with quite a sting in the tail. It’s called Rock the Boat.”

Edmonds and Zeremes will co-write the book and lyrics. The name of the composer has yet to be announced.

In the meantime, Edmonds is thrilled to be at Griffin performing The Witches again, saying: “It’s totally exhausting but a real joy to do.”

The Witches, SBW Stables Theatre, September 24 – October 5. Bookings: griffintheatre.com.au or 9361 3817

A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on September 7

Kieran Culkin interview: This Is Our Youth

Kieran Culkin, Michael Cera and Tavi Gevinson are currently on Broadway at the Cort Theatre performing in previews of Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 drama This Is Our Youth. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro, the production – which arrives direct from a Steppenwolf Theatre Company season in Chicago – opens on September 11.

Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson and Michael Cera. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson and Michael Cera. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

In 2012, Culkin and Cera appeared in a production of the same play at the Sydney Opera House. Here is an interview I did with Culkin then:

Ever since Kieran Culkin appeared in Kenneth Lonergan’s acerbically funny play This is Our Youth in London’s West End in 2003, he has wanted to perform in it again.

“I never actually stopped looking at it,’ he says over the phone from New York where the cast is rehearsing prior to a season at the Sydney Opera House.

“I’ve carried the same copy around with me for the last 10 years. I loved the play from the moment I first read it and when I got off stage well over nine years ago I just knew immediately that I wanted to do it again. I played the character of Warren the first time around. I knew I wanted to play Dennis at some point.”

Set in New York in 1982, This is Our Youth follows 48 turbulent hours in the life of two disaffected college dropouts from affluent but dysfunctional families: the magnetic, domineering, drug-dealing Dennis and the weedier, awkward Warren who arrives at Dennis’s Manhattan apartment one day with $15,000 stolen from his abusive father.

Since premiering off-Broadway in 1996, the play has starred the likes of Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhall, Casey Affleck, Hayden Christensen, Mark Ruffalo and Anna Paquin.

For the Sydney season, Culkin plays Dennis with Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Juno) as Warren. Completing the cast is Australian actor Emily Barclay as the fashion student Warren wants to bed. They make a pretty cool young trio.

Having spent ages looking around the right person to play Warren, Culkin realised Cera would be perfect when they were doing re-shoots for Scott Pilgrim vs the World, the 2010 geek-gamer movie in which Cera played Scott Pilgrim and Culkin his amusing gay roommate Wallace.

“I gave him the play about a year and a half ago,” says Culkin. “I didn’t realise he hadn’t done a play. I said you should read it. I don’t know anybody who has read it and not loved it so I figured if he read it he’d fall in love with it.

“The second I handed it to him I thought I can’t believe (I didn’t think of him earlier). I was smacking myself in the forehead. Now I can’t read it any other way. Every time I read it I see him in the part.

“He read it that night and came back the next day and said, ‘I love it. Can we do it?’ Being naïve, I said, ‘yes let’s put it up next month’ but it took about a year and a half.”

Eventually discussions between Broadway producer David Binder and the SOH’s head of commercial programming Andrew Spencer led to a Sydney season.

“The fact we’re all getting a trip to Sydney out of it is pretty amazing because I’ve never been there and I’m really looking forward to it,” says Culkin.

Asked if it will tour elsewhere, Culkin says: “That would be wonderful but there are no further plans. I’d do it for many more months in Australia. I’ll do it anywhere.”

Both the boys in the play have troubled relationships with their parents. Culkin and his siblings – which include Home Alone child star Macaulay – famously had a fraught relationship with their ambitious actor father Kit who pushed them all into acting and who was criticized for mismanaging Macaulay’s career.

However, Culkin says he has not drawn on personal experience for the play. “I can’t say that because their situations are extraordinarily different – especially Dennis and his family. It seems pretty dysfunctional. He mentions that he has brothers and sisters but he can’t be close to them as he hardly mentions them.

“I can’t draw on that at all from my personal experience. My mother is an amazing woman and I’m very close to all my siblings.”

Culkin began acting at age eight in the first Home Alone film. His other film credits include The Cider House Rules and Igby Goes Down (2002) for which he got a Golden Globe nomination.

Shortly after that he stopped acting for several years and disappeared from sight.

“I never thought, ‘no I don’t want to do this’ (acting) but I definitely reached a point around age 20 where I was uncertain,” he says. “Because of starting so young I never actively chose to be an actor. I never said, ‘I want to pursue this’ and it was strange to be 20 and have a career and never have decided to have that. So I took a lot of time to myself and just sort of figured out if it’s what I wanted to do. I was pretty sure it was what I wanted but I wanted to give myself (some) distance from it to come to that conclusion on my own. So that’s what I did.”

Fame doesn’t particularly interest him. “I’ve always been pretty fortunate that I haven’t had to deal with a lot of that stuff. I’ve tried my best to be as distant from that as possible by trying to remain uninteresting and beneath the radar.”

NEW SYDNEY SEASON OF THIS IS OUR YOUTH

While Culkin, Cera and Gevinson preview in New York, a new Sydney production is in rehearsal. Newly formed Sydney-based indie group The King’s Collective is presenting three American plays that explore youth at the Tap Gallery (September 10 – 28) as part of the Sydney Fringe: This Is Our Youth, Mark St Germain’s Out of Gas on Lover’s Leap and Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries.

David Suchet interview

In 1985, David Suchet played Inspector Japp in a film of Agatha Christie’s Thirteen at Dinner with Peter Ustinov as Poirot. Fortunately he wasn’t very good. Had he been, he may never have taken on the role of Poirot himself.

Suchet, of course, played Christie’s fastidious little Belgian detective in 74 telemovies over 25 years, winning millions of fans around the world.

In between his Poirot commitments, he returned regularly to the stage though he wasn’t able to undertake a long run. However, after Poirot’s death in the final episode last year, Suchet now has the time to tour internationally in a play by Roger Crane called The Last Confession, currently in Australia. Set in the Vatican it is billed as “a thriller” set around the sudden (some think suspicious) death of Pope John Paul I in 1978.

David Suchet in The Last Confession. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

David Suchet in The Last Confession. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Next, he plays Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s “trivial comedy for serious people” The Importance of Being Earnest in London’s West End.

During a quick media stop-over in Sydney before the start of the tour in Perth, the thoroughly charming, genial British actor took time to talk about saying goodbye to Poirot, his current role in The Last Confession, his conversion to Christianity, Twitter and the chance to play Lady Bracknell.

Jo Litson: You have talked about the end of Poirot being like saying goodbye to a dear friend. Has it been very emotional?

David Suchet: It was and it is. I can’t really be allowed to let him go at the moment because I’ve just been in this play The Last Confession in Los Angeles and Canada and the last five episodes of Poirot are just being aired there now so when I was there I was doing publicity for Poirot – and that’s a year after I’d finished the series. So, in fact, I haven’t been able to put him to rest. Maybe I’m beginning to from now.

You’ll miss him a lot presumably?

I’ll miss him very much, but he’ll always be (screening) somewhere.

What would you say if they asked you to play him in a film?

I’ve always said if there was a movie to be made of one of the stories I would consider that, because it would be like revisiting one of Agatha Christie’s stories before he died so I wouldn’t mind that. And it would be in a different medium. I’d never do him again on television.

I have been asked to do him in the theatre but my theatre career has always been very distinct and separate from Hercule Poirot. Of course, I’d be tempted to do him in the theatre but I don’t feel, with the best will in the world, that it’s right for me to bring that character into my theatre repertoire. I think it may overshadow what I’ve done in 45 years. I’ve performed in these great plays – Joe Keller in All My Sons, Tyrone in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Iago in Othello, Prospero in The Tempest – and then suddenly Poirot? You’d have to ask why, wouldn’t you? So it would be for the wrong reasons.

I have to let him go. There will be other Poirots sooner rather than later, I’m sure, and I must be generous and magnanimous and wish them luck and hope they have a huge success with it. But I have to let him go in exactly the same way Sean Connery had to let James Bond go. It was his decision to let go. It’s not my decision to let go but I’ve done all the stories now, there are none left to do so that’s it, I must say goodbye.

You were in an early film when Peter Ustinov played him?

Yes, I played Inspector Japp. He (Peter Ustinov) was such a lovely man. He was so generous to me when I took over and wished me all the luck, publicly as well. But I have to say that I am only grateful that when I played Inspector Japp with Peter Ustinov that I gave such a bad performance. I’ll tell you why. Peter went on to do four or five other films after that with the same cast so if I’d been good I would have been Inspector Japp in all those other films. I would never than have been asked to play Poirot.

I believe your involvement with The Last Confession goes back to before the play premiered in Chichester in 2007?

Yes, my involvement with the play goes back even further than that. It was sent to me by another director for another company in England, I would say four years before it was sent to me again. When it was first sent to me the play was not ready. I liked it very much. I was very intrigued with its plot but the script needed working on. I only was going to be given three weeks rehearsal and I knew those three weeks rehearsal were going to be rewriting the play rather than putting on a finished piece and I said to myself, ‘no, I don’t want to do that.’

About three or four years after that it was sent to me again having been reworked by the writer and it was much, much better to the extent that I was really interested in this play now and went to New York and worked with Roger Crane on my own to develop it even further. Then the producers came on board and then we got a director and he took over that job.

Because of Poirot I only had time to do six weeks in Chichester and 10 weeks in the West End. And ever since then the producers have wanted to do it again and I’ve never been available so now that Poirot has died it’s the first time that I have suddenly been free. I wanted to do it again because I wanted to re-explore the character. I hadn’t really finished in a sense.

David Suchet in The Last Confession. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

David Suchet in The Last Confession. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Apparently it’s thanks to you that the play is touring Australia?

We were always going to go to Canada and Los Angeles and I said to Paul Elliott, our producer, I’d like to go to other English speaking countries who have supported my Poirot all these years. Can we please go to Australia and South Africa? He tried both. Australia had (theatre) vacancies and wanted it. South Africa wanted it but had no vacancies at the time so this is why I’m now here. It’s all part of my desire to come and, in a way, say “thank you”. I have a huge fan base here. When Poirot is showing in Australia I always know it’s being shown because my mail bag is huge and I get messages on Twitter saying “I’m now watching you in Sydney or Brisbane…” and it’s always such a thrill for me that my program is being watched on the other side of the world. Now that I’m in Sydney I get stopped in the street and people are so charming and I’m so pleased to be here on stage doing something completely different and, in a sense, saying thank you.

Do you do you own tweets?

I do. People are always surprised. I don’t do it that often. I don’t have that many followers for a so-called star. (He has 29,000). I get on Twitter about once a week and do a few lines here and there but at least they know it’s me. I never wanted to do Twitter. It was when I was in All My Sons in the West End, the publicity department said I had to and they offered to run my Twitter page for me. I said, “well, if I’m going to do it, I know my Poirot fans are going to want to ask questions and things like that, which you wouldn’t be able to answer so I’ll do it on my own.” I don’t get into conversations but when people say nice things I get back and say thank you.

Superficially there would seem to be some similarities between Poirot and The Last Confession: a thriller with a possible murder?

That’s publicity from a long time ago. The play is not a whodunit. To a certain extent nobody will ever know who dunit if they did do it. Pope John Paul I was found dead in his bed 33 days after starting to be the most radical, reforming pope in the history of the Catholic Church. He was everybody’s idea of the parish priest, the “smiling pope”, the people’s pope, the pope that didn’t want to be carried on a throne for his coronation. Sound familiar? Yes, sounds a bit like Pope Francis doesn’t it?

My character Giovani Benelli, an archbishop originally, was a great friend of Albino Luciani who was to become Pope John Paul I and really got his friend into the papacy. He then becomes a cardinal and his friend having become Pope is found dead in his bed. My character then feels such pain and guilt that he has this great struggle of faith. So this play is as much about the struggle of this man as an investigation into the possible causes of the untimely death of this great pope. So it’s a play that will take you into the power politics of the Vatican. Yes, we may be walking around in scarlet robes all 20 of us but you could be entering parliament.

The Last Confession. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

The Last Confession. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

I believe your wife (Sheila Ferris) is in it?

Yes, she is playing the only female role in the play – a nun who takes care of Pope John Paul I. It’s a very long time since she was on stage, over 20 years. She gave up a wonderful career to look after our children, bless her, and this is an opportunity for her to come back, and she’s really enjoying it.

You have recorded an audio book of The Bible. That’s quite some undertaking?

Apart from being a Christian – and I do have a very strong faith – I’ve always found that The Bible is a library of books. We’ve got drama, we’ve got poetry, we’ve got allegory, we’ve got songs, we’ve got history, we’ve got everything in The Bible. As somebody said, it’s the greatest book in the world. For an actor to read it from beginning to end is massive, and it took me over 200 hours. I’m so pleased I’ve done it.

Is it true you converted to Christianity after reading a Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room?

No, there wasn’t a Gideon’s Bible; that was the funny thing. My conversion to Christianity from agnosticism or almost on the edge of atheism began in a hotel room in Seattle in 1986. I was beginning to think about my late grandfather and about life after death. I thought, “I don’t believe in life after death and yet I’ve always believed my late grandfather was a spiritual guide so how can I not believe in life after death?”

I looked in the drawer beside the bed for the Gideon’s Bible and it wasn’t there so the next day I managed to get the New Testament and I started to read. I thought I’d read somebody who actually existed so I read one of the letters of Paul. I’ve always been interested in Rome so I read his letters to the Romans. The first half of the letter I didn’t understand at all but then I found a way of existing in the second half of that letter in the Book of Romans that I’d been searching for all my life: how to relate to other human beings and how to be a human being. I thought this is great and suddenly I found a worldview, suddenly I was looking through a lens that made sense to me. Then I had to discover where did Paul get this from and it was from Jesus so that led me to Christianity.

What do you do next?

I’m going to be in The Importance of being Earnest. I’m going to be playing Lady Bracknell in the West End. I follow in the great shoes of Geoffrey Rush (who played Lady Bracknell for Melbourne Theatre Company in 2011). It’s not the first time this cross-gender casting has been done. A number of actors have played Lady Bracknell and roles like Viola. And actresses – though you can’t say that anymore – have played roles like Richard II. But it’s a chance for me to embody a wonderfully written comedy role. I’m really looking forward to it. So I change from playing a cardinal to a lady. What an amazing career for an actor of my age! I’m so lucky.

The Last Confession is at His Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, August 27 – 31; Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, September 3 – 21; and Theatre Royal, Sydney, September 24 – October 5.

This interview was conducted on behalf of the Sunday Telegraph where a story ran on August 10