Brooke Satchwell has grown up in the public eye. Cast in Neighbours just before she turned 16, snaring the Logie for Most Popular New Talent, she celebrated 20 years as an actor last year.
The bulk of her work has been in television with credits such as Water Rats, Packed to the Rafters and Wonderland in which she played uptight lawyer Grace Barnes.
“I’m still hearing from people who are disappointed that Wonderland isn’t returning (this year). It was their guilty pleasure,” says Satchwell.
She’s hoping, “fingers crossed”, that Dirty Laundry Live, the comedy quiz show about popular culture on which she is a regular celebrity panelist, will return to the ABC this year. And she will definitely pop up again in the ABC’s comedy sketch show Black Comedy, reprising her jaw-dropping turn as “black white woman” Tiffany.
However, in a change of pace, Satchwell starts 2016 on stage in David Williamson’s new play Jack of Hearts at the Ensemble Theatre. Having done comparatively little theatre over the years, she is excited to be treading the boards again.
“When I finished Neighbours, I moved to Sydney and I did a version of The Tempest in the Botanic Gardens. That was an incredible experience, which led to The Graduate with Wendy Hughes and Mark Priestley (in 2001). Then I had a run of about eight years straight in commercial television,” says Satchwell.
The last time she performed on stage was in 2010, when she appeared in a comedy called Clean House for Perth’s Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company.
“Every time I step on stage people are quite surprised and say, ‘oh, you can do that.’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, I really quite enjoy it, the liberty of a performance that’s purely in the moment.’ And they say, ‘oh we’ll have to get you to do more’ and then time passes, different projects occur and it just hasn’t happened. But the timing of this at the Ensemble was fabulous,” says Satchwell.
Chatting during a break in rehearsals, Satchwell is smart, funny, articulate and down-to-earth. Asked by the publicist if she’d like a coffee of some description she says she’ll have whatever’s going “as long as it’s caffeine and milk”.
Jack of Hearts, which is directed by Williamson himself, also features Craig Reucassel and Chris Taylor from The Chaser. Taylor plays Jack, a loveable loser whose partner Emma dumps him for the smooth, arrogant, successful Carl despite her best friend’s warning. Jack sets out to get her back.
Satchwell plays Denise who is married to the philandering Stu (Reucassel) but sticks by him, partly because of the material security he provides and partly because she desperately wants children and has invested a lot in the relationship.
“It’s looking at the dynamics of relationships. Increasingly these days choice is more widely available across the board and that means we are a little more indecisive in what we’re committing to – and that (includes) partners,” says Satchwell.
“David pointed out that quite often if we are too picky in looking for a coupling we might miss the boat. So this play, in a very hilarious way, looks at that. It’s quite farcical with elements of high camp and drama as the couples enter the warring stage and are forced to deal with each other.”
Satchwell famously went out with actor Matthew Newton but their five-year relationship ended in 2006 when he was charged with assault. She is now very happily engaged to Sydney film editor David Gross.
Satchwell met him when she spent four years working as a production and camera assistant. That’s how, in 2008, she was caught up in a terrorist attack at a Mumbai hotel and was very lucky that she had just gone to some toilets away from the main lobby and pool.
Asked how that has affected her, particularly with so much terrorism in the world today, she admits that she probably has “a raised awareness in terms of security or just being very aware of my surroundings having seen first-hand the horror of that kind of experience.
“However, because bad news sells, I find the saturation of negative stories and the coverage is quite often disproportionate to the reality. Not to undermine the horror of those experiences for those involved but I don’t believe it is as all-encompassing as we quite often feel, given that (news coverage) is coming at us from every corner,” she says.
“I think if anything it does inspire me to concentrate on living in a more good and principled way in the hope that you inspire that in other people. I do believe that the natural reaction to destructive behaviour is for people to respond with greater generosity in the way they operate within society and I can’t help but think that will have a greater velocity.”
Jack of Hearts plays at the Ensemble Theatre, January 29 – April 2. Bookings: www.ensemble.com.au or 02 9929 0644
A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on January24