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Grace and Willpower at Stirling Theatre

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£30 million and changing with grace
Grace and Willpower, Stirling Theatre, The Greening of Grace, Lady Willpower, play, performing arts, comedy, drama, stage
The cast of Lady Willpower features Chris Kennedy, left, Rachael Coltrona, Claire Westheafer, Jane Sherwood, Owen Phillips and Ursula Johnson, seated at front.


Two strong ladies feature in two strong plays for Stirling Theatre's first season of 2019. Presented under the banner of "Grace and Willpower", The Greening of Grace is about a woman who changes her politics after traumatic life events while Lady Willpower is a gentle comedy of bad manners, deceit and a battle of siblings over a £30 million estate.

Written by Australian actor William Zappa and directed by Tim Riessen, The Greening of Grace highlights that every individual has the power to change the world. "The play is told from Grace's perspective, in retrospect, providing an insight into how her family provided a catalyst for the change," Tim said.

Grace and Willpower, Stirling Theatre, The Greening of Grace, Lady Willpower, play, performing arts, comedy, drama, stage
grace1: The Greening of Grace features Michele Diston, left, Michael Balmer, Elias Cuzens and Sharon Menzies.

"The biggest challenge comes from Grace acting as the narrator – allowing her to tell her story is crucial but it's not a one-person show. Making sure all the characters develop their influence on the overall direction of the play is important."

Originally performing as a teenager, Tim has returned to the stage in recent years, appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar and an end-of-year pantomime with the Albany Light Opera and Theatre Company and The Phantom of the Opera, Pride and Prejudice, Anything Goes, Speaking in Tongues and The Darling Buds of May with Limelight Theatre. He has also performed in You Can't Have One at Stirling Theatre and directed David Williamson's Let The Sunshine at Limelight Theatre in 2017.

Grace and Willpower, Stirling Theatre, The Greening of Grace, Lady Willpower, play, performing arts, comedy, drama, stage
Grace (Sharon Menzies, left) with grandson Tim (Elias Cuzens) in The Greening of Grace.

"I was inspired to direct The Greening of Grace by what I saw as a strong character in the title role," Tim said. "I was also drawn to the play because it retains an Australian flavour."

Michael Balmer plays Grace's husband Derrick, an elderly, retired blue collar worker with strong political views that clash with his daughter's opinions and lifestyle.

Grace and Willpower, Stirling Theatre, The Greening of Grace, Lady Willpower, play, performing arts, comedy, drama, stage
Michael Balmer, left, plays Derrick, the husband of Grace (Sharon Menzies) in The Greening of Grace.

"This, along with his poor health, tends to make him come across as a grumpy old man," he said. "But his love for his wife is what keeps him grounded. My main challenge is looking 20 years older and 20kg lighter."

Written and directed by Bob Charteris, Lady Willpower stems from the author's fascination of media reports about families fighting over wills. "I've always thought it would make an ideal subject for a comedy," he said.

The play features Lady Catherine Cadwalladr, a woman who has led an unusual life and intends to make her last days equally unusual by re-writing her will. "This causes ructions with her rather nasty and spiteful middle-aged children who think they are going to get an equal share of the estate," Bob said. "That's until they discover their mother has certain 'conditions'."

Grace and Willpower, Stirling Theatre, The Greening of Grace, Lady Willpower, play, performing arts, comedy, drama, stage
Three siblings (Claire Westheafer, left, Jane Sherwood and Owen Phillips) aren't pleased when their mother Lady Cadwalladr (Ursula Johnson, front) puts certain conditions in her will.


Bob, a journalist for 50 years, is a late bloomer when it comes to acting, first performing at age 60 in Mame at Limelight Theatre in 2007. He went on to appear in Habeus Corpus, Out of Order and Jesus Christ Superstar and has also performed with Stirling and Garrick Theatres and the Graduate Dramatic Society.

Since retiring from journalism, Bob has taken up the challenge of writing more plays – his first two, You Can't Hurry Love and Henry Wharton and the Einstein Fracture, were produced at Stirling Theatre in 2012.

"I have been able to secure a first-class cast for Lady Willpower, several of them very experienced in all areas of theatre," he said. "This is of considerable help to me because they know what's required in terms of action, movement and dialogue, meaning the audience will be entertained throughout the play."

Grace and Willpower, Stirling Theatre, The Greening of Grace, Lady Willpower, play, performing arts, comedy, drama, stage
Lady Cadwalladr (Ursula Johnson, centre) with her lawyer (Chris Kennedy, left) and maid Anna (Rachael Coltrona).


One such actor is 91-year-old Ursula Johnson, who plays Lady Catherine Cadwalladr. "She is an elderly lady with very determined views who does not suffer fools gladly," she said.

"She intends to make the most of her last weeks on earth, as her family discovers. At my age, I am always worried I will lose the ability to remember lines especially given this is a larger part than I have done for some time."

Acting on and off for most of her life, Mrs Johnson moved to Perth nine years ago and has performed with the Graduate Dramatic Society, Stirling and Limelight Theatres, ARENAarts, Playlovers and Irish Theatre Players. She has received several acting awards and nominations since 2012.

Grace and Willpower, Stirling Theatre, The Greening of Grace, Lady Willpower, play, performing arts, comedy, drama, stage
Ursula Johnson, left, Owen Phillips, Claire Westheafer and Jane Sherwood are appearing in Lady Willpower.

"Lady Willpower appealed because it is set in England and requires the actors to speak with well-spoken accents," Mrs Johnson said. "I have no problems with this, having grown up in the university town of Cambridge!

"Being of the same era as Lady Cadwalladr, I can relate to her views and opinions. It is a cleverly thought-out, entertaining play."

Grace and Willpower plays at 8pm February 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23 with 2pm matinees February 10 and 17. Tickets are $22, $20 concession – book through Morris News on 9446 9120 or at www.trybooking.com/YUAE. Stirling Theatre is on Morris Place, Innaloo.


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Why? It’s a chance to see two contrasting plays that have strong female leads delivered in an interesting and effective manner, whether using comedy or drama.
When: 8pm February 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 & 23; 2pm February 10 & 17
Phone: Morris News on 9446 9120
Where: Stirling Theatre, Morris Place, Innaloo, WA
Cost: $22, $20 concession
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