Brooke Satchwell is Back on the Boards

Brooke Satchwell

Brooke Satchwell during a break in rehearsals for David Williamson’s Jack of Hearts at the Ensemble Theatre, wearing a dress by Melbourne fashion label LIFEwithBIRD. Photo: Brett Costello

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

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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

 

 

Cruise Control

Ensemble Theatre, April 30

Clockwise from back left, Helen Dallimore, Henri Szeps, Kate Fitzpatrick, Felix Williamson, Michelle Doake and Peter Phelps. Photo: Clare Hawley

Clockwise from back left, Helen Dallimore, Henri Szeps, Kate Fitzpatrick, Felix Williamson, Michelle Doake and Peter Phelps. Photo: Clare Hawley

Inspired by a transatlantic cruise that he and his wife took, David Williamson’s latest comedy Cruise Control features three incompatible couples, each hoping to resolve their relationship issues on a luxury cruise, who find themselves having to share a dinner table every night.

There’s Richard (Felix Williamson), a failed British novelist who is arrogant, abusive and a compulsive womaniser, and his long-suffering wife Fiona (Michelle Doake), a successful publisher.

Joining them are elderly New York Jewish periodontist Sol (Henri Szeps) and his bored wife Silky (Kate Fitzpatrick) who spends his money freely while constantly undermining him, along with Australians Darren (Peter Phelps), a Bra Boy who manufactures surf wear, and his gorgeous wife Imogen (Helen Dallimore) who was “cut and polished” at Ascham.

Looking after them is Filipino waiter Charlie (Kenneth Moraleda), who is just happy to be providing for his much-loved family.

The first act is an entertaining comedy of manners as Williamson establishes the characters and the spiky dynamics between them. But in the second act some of the steam goes out of the play with a few fairly unconvincing plot turns and a lack of any real tension as things begin to feel predictable.

The final tying up of the light-weight plot is somewhat contrived and spelling out what happens to Richard at the end feels unnecessarily tacked on.

Williamson directs the play himself and keeps the action moving fluidly on Marissa Dale-John’s cleverly compact set, which certainly captures the world of a cruise ship. In the naturalistic setting, it’s odd though (and distracting) to see the actors “pouring” pretend wine into cheap plastic glasses.

The play is well performed by the strong cast. Felix Williamson gives a darkly entertaining performance as the irredeemably unlikeable Richard, Phelps brings just the right swagger to the tough, tattooed Darren, Dallimore shines as the voluptuous Imogen who is frustrated by her husband’s lack of attention, Doake is also very good as the put-upon, kindly Fiona, Fitzpatrick nails many of the biggest laughs as the elegant, bored Silky, Szeps is touching as Sol (though he was a little hesitant with some of his lines on opening night), and Moraleda injects some welcome heart as Charlie.

Though Cruise Control isn’t as gripping as it clearly aims to be, and peters out towards the end, there are some very funny lines, some astute observations and some poignant moments.

Cruise Control runs at the Ensemble Theatre until June 14. All performances are sold out so three new performances have been added at The Concourse, Chatswood on June 24 & 25. Bookings: http://www.ensemble.com.au or 02 9929 0644 or http://www.ticketek.com.au or 1300 795 012

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on May 4

Travelling North

Wharf 1, Sydney, January 18

Bryan Brown and Alison Whyte. Photo: Brett Boardman

Bryan Brown and Alison Whyte. Photo: Brett Boardman

It’s a big year for David Williamson with eight of his plays to be staged in Sydney. It’s a shame then that the first of them – Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Travelling North – is a disappointment.

Written in 1979, Travelling North is a gentle, elegiac comedy about an autumnal romance between Frances (Alison Whyte, replacing the injured Greta Scacchi) and the grouchy, older Frank (Bryan Brown).

To the chagrin of Frances’s unhappily married daughters (Harriet Dyer and Sara West), she and Frank decide to head north together – but when Frank’s health fails there is trouble in paradise.

Directed by Andrew Upton, the production is hampered by David Fleischer’s stark, unattractive set. Performed on a large, slatted wooden platform backed by dark walls, with virtually no props, there is no sense of place, which the play needs. Instead, it is left to Nick Schlieper’s lighting to convey the shifts between chilly Melbourne and tropical Queensland.

It also seems odd that though the play stretches over a year or more, Whyte wears the same dress throughout while other actors have costume changes.

Brown brings little emotional depth or nuance to the role of Frank. He is at his most believable when angrily demanding information from his doctor (Russell Kiefel) but mostly looks slightly awkward as if uncomfortable on stage and captures little of Frank’s irascible charm.

Whyte is an elegant, dignified, warm-hearted Frances. Despite her late addition to the cast, hers is the most convincing performance, though Andrew Tighe gives the production an engaging shot in the arm with a very funny, sweet performance as the interfering but well-meaning neighbour in short shorts, socks and sandals.

It seemed to me that the problem is not in the writing. Williamson writes believable dialogue laced with a wry, gentle humour and canvases pertinent issues: older love, the generation divide and the way grown-up children so often demand that their parents remain at their beck and call – something we see a lot these days as more and more grandparents find themselves co-opted as child carers. We should care about the characters a whole lot more than we do here.

Instead, it feels as if none of the different elements of the production have really gelled. The emotional heart of the play is missing in this rather one-dimensional production, which doesn’t do Williamson justice.

Travelling North runs at Wharf I until March 22. Bookings: www.sydneytheatre.com.au or 02 9250 1777

An edited version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on February 2

The Removalists; Happiness reviews

There are two David Williamson plays running in Sydney at the moment – The Removalists from early in his career and a new play, Happiness, which has just premiered at the Ensemble Theatre.

They make a study in contrasts. The Removalists is a reminder of what a tough, terrific playwright Williamson has been in his time and why this particular play is considered a classic of Australian theatre. In recent years, however, his plays have become somewhat formulaic: pick a topical subject, find the characters to debate it on stage, and stir in some laughs. Happiness is all this – and one of Williamson’s least convincing plays.

The Removalists

Bondi Pavilion, May 29

Justin Stewart Cotta and Laurence Coy. Photo: Zak Kaczmarek

Justin Stewart Cotta and Laurence Coy. Photo: Zak Kaczmarek

Written in 1971, The Removalists launched David Williamson’s career, sending a shock of recognition through audiences with its stark, savage portrayal of the ugly side of Australian culture: the open, rampant sexism, in particular.

Forty-two years on, Leland Kean’s terrific production for Rock Surfers Theatre Company still packs a real punch. Blatant sexism certainly isn’t as rife in public life as it was back then, but it ain’t disappeared.

Meanwhile, the themes of police corruption and brutality, abuse of authority, and domestic violence feel just as relevant.

On his first day in the police force, rookie Constable Ross (Sam O’Sullivan) finds himself under the command of Sergeant Simmonds (Laurence Coy), a lazy, manipulative, sexist bully who prides himself on having never made an arrest in 23 years despite the high crime-rate in his area.

When the confident, well-heeled Kate (Caroline Brazier) and her quieter sister Fiona (Sophie Hensser) report that Fiona’s husband Kenny (Justin Stewart Cotta) has been beating her up, the lecherous Simmonds decides they will help her move out while Kenny is at his usual Friday night drinking session. But Kenny returns home early.

Kean has wisely decided to keep the play in its original period, using blasts of 70s Oz rock and Ally Mansell’s drab, dung-coloured set with cheap furniture to create the perfect setting.

With excellent performances from the entire cast, which includes Sam Atwell in the comic role of the removalist, Kean’s production feels tough, raw and very real.

Coy’s Simmonds is a man both odious and deeply ordinary. A school group attending the performance I saw remained attentive throughout, while the boys, in particular, seemed shocked by his behaviour, wincing visibly at his sexist remarks and sleazy bottom-patting.

O’Sullivan captures Ross’s naivety and nails the moment he suddenly snaps, Stewart Cotta is a convincingly brutish Kenny yet manages to make us feel something like sympathy when the tables are turned on him, while Brazier and Hensser deliver beautifully detailed, in-depth performances.

Kean’s production strikes just the right balance between humour, menace and violence as it builds tension. We laugh but we also cringe and shudder at a classic Australian play that still rings horribly true.

Bondi Pavilion until June 16.

An edited version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on June 2.

Happiness

Ensemble Theatre, May 17

Glenn Hazeldine and Erica Lovell. Photo: Steve Lunam

Glenn Hazeldine and Erica Lovell. Photo: Steve Lunam

In Happiness, David Williamson takes on an interesting, pertinent question: why are Australians seemingly so dissatisfied and unhappy when we have never had it so good? However, the play barely scratches the surface of the idea.

It begins with a lecture by Roland Makepeace (Mark Lee), a professor of psychology who specialises in happiness – or “human wellbeing” as he prefers to put it – which sets up Williamson’s theme.

However, Roland’s own life isn’t exactly overflowing with wellbeing. His hard-drinking wife Hanna (Anne Tenney) is bitter and forever snapping at him, while his daughter Zelda (Erica Lovell) claims to feel suicidal on occasions.

When Roland tries to help Zelda with advice to go out and forgive someone, apologise to someone and do an anonymous good deed, there are all kinds of unintended consequences.

Rounding out the cast are Peter Kowitz as a rich, former lover of Hanna’s, Glenn Hazeldine as the editor of a right-wing newspaper where Zelda is an environmental reporter, and Adriano Cappelletta as two of Zelda’s love interests.

It’s all pretty unconvincing, while Williamson’s trademark ability to deliver cracking one-liners has also deserted him. Some of the audience laughed along now and then but I hardly cracked a smile.

Sandra Bates directs a pedestrian production in which the actors, by and large, do what they can. Hazeldine, Kowitz and Lee deliver the most believable characters, though they are all pretty sketchily written and we don’t particularly care about any of them. It feels very under-developed with more work needed on both the script and the production.

That said, as I left the theatre an elderly gent in front of me, who had clearly enjoyed it said, “Good old Williamson”. What’s more, the production is apparently almost sold out – which goes to show how many fans Williamson still has. It’s just a shame he hasn’t given them something better.

Ensemble Theatre until July 6. Noosa Long Weekend Festival, June 18 & 19.