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The Actress at Stirling Theatre

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Moving and hilarious look at performer’s farewell
The Actress, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, play, stage, comedy, drama, Peter Quilter, actor
Lydia Martin (Jane Sherwood) reflects on her life as a performer in The Actress.


Stirling Theatre is starting its 50th year with a farewell performance, as seen in the play The Actress, with a famous stage performer deciding to retire. Written by Peter Quilter and directed by Carryn McLean, the touching comedy is set in a dressing room with the family of Lydia Martin – including her ex-husband, theatre colleagues and fiancé – wanting to wish her well.

The Actress, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, play, stage, comedy, drama, Peter Quilter, actor
Lydia (Jane Sherwood, left) shows company manager Margaret (Claire Westheafer) what she thinks of the director's notes.


Humour and biting comments come thick and fast but, despite Lydia's determination to retire, she realises she still has a few issues to sort through in her mind. Playwright Quilter is known for his Broadway play End of the Rainbow, adapted into the 2019 Renée Zellweger film Judy.

"I have read a couple of his scripts including Glorious! and Curtain Up and I like the fact Quilter's characters are real and have depth," Carryn said. "He exposes their vulnerabilities as well as their humour."

The Actress, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, play, stage, comedy, drama, Peter Quilter, actor
Director Carryn McLean, right, with the cast of The Actress.


After joining Patch Theatre in 1967, Carryn became a founding member of Stirling Theatre in 1970 and has appeared in numerous plays with the company over the years. She was made a life member in 2000 and has also directed No Time On, Saving Ardley, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Two Weeks with the Queen and It's A Wonderful Life.

With Limelight Theatre, McLean has stage-managed several shows including 42nd Street, Crazy for You, Half a Sixpence, Sunset Boulevard and Gaslight, also directing The Darling Buds of May in 2015. In 2017, she received the Susan Hayward Award for Best Director of a Play for her production of Moonlight and Magnolias at the annual Finley Awards.

The Actress, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, play, stage, comedy, drama, Peter Quilter, actor
Dresser Karen (Carole Wilson, left) ensures Lydia (Jane Sherwood) maintains the right scents for the occasion.


Carryn's latest show is providing various challenges, mainly due to a split set – one section is Lydia's dressing room and the other is the stage for Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, the last show Lydia is appearing in. "Trying to place the furniture so audiences can see the action in both sections, through the various pieces on the dressing room set, has been a case of musical chairs," she said.

"Stirling Theatre has a reasonable stage area but the wings are about a metre wide so we're really at our limit on the stage area. Three of the main actors also appear in two scenes from The Cherry Orchard – switching from modern to Russian characters while needing to present them as different roles is going to be interesting. I have a very talented and experienced cast and am enjoying working with them during our rehearsals."

The Actress, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, play, stage, comedy, drama, Peter Quilter, actor
Mother Lydia (Jane Sherwood, left) and daughter Nicole (Lara Brunini) share a moment backstage in The Actress.


Jane Sherwood plays Lydia Martin, the actress of the play's title. "She was a great star in her day but is now ageing and not getting the great roles of her heyday," she said. "She has decided to bow out and move with her rich, older fiancé to Switzerland.

"It's a huge role with lots of dialogue – I had backed away from acting a few years ago and concentrated on directing, in fear of forgetting lines. But I've come back to acting slowly over the past 18 months when I realised I could still learn them. Working with Ursula Johnson last year, who is in her '90s and still learning parts, has inspired me."

The Actress, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, play, stage, comedy, drama, Peter Quilter, actor
Lydia Martin (Jane Sherwood, left) prepares to leave everything to be with her very rich but much older fiancé Charles (David Young) in Switzerland.


Involved with the Perth theatre scene since 2005, Jane was a founding member of Phoenix Theatre and has been involved with the Old Mill, Stirling, Black Swan, Rag and Bone, Kwinana and Harbour Theatres, A lad in sane productions, ARENAarts and Fringe World. She has been named best director at the annual Finley Awards, Dramafest, South West Drama Festival and Hills Festival of Theatre.

In 2018, Jane took a break from theatre to work on five films but made a return last year, acting in Lady Willpower and directing Ten Quid at Stirling Theatre, and appearing in Kate's Story for Life on Hold Productions.

The Actress, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, play, stage, comedy, drama, Peter Quilter, actor
Lydia (Jane Sherwood, left) and her agent Harriet (Karin Staflund) enjoying the cheap brandy she previously gave as a present to her star.

"The role of Lydia in The Actress was a great opportunity and a character I could relate to, given she's ageing and past her prime," she laughed. "I was also keen to work with director Carryn Maclean – we have a great cast with people I have worked with before or have long wanted to."

The Actress plays at 8pm February 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22 with 2pm matinees February 9 and 16. Tickets are $22, $20 concession – book through Morris News on 9446 9120 or at www.trybooking.com/BFNMJ. Stirling Theatre is on Morris Place, Innaloo.

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Why? Another show that highlights the theatre world from a behind-the-scenes perspective, using a blend of both comedy and drama.
When: 8pm February 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 & 22; 2pm February 9 & 16
Phone: Morris News – 9446 9120
Where: Stirling Theatre, Morris Place, Innaloo
Cost: $22, $20 concession
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