The Playschool presenter last graced MTC stages in An Ideal Husband. Now she 's stepped into the ultra-contemporary role of Natalie in Benjamin Law's debut play, Torch the Place. We spoke with her about social media influencers, snail slime conditioner, Hoarding disorder, revolving sets and more.
What would you say drives/motivates your character?
I’m playing Natalie, who is the middle child of the family. Natalie has dabbled in the entertainment industry from an early age and starred in a children’s television series. From there she started modelling and her public profile increased. She currently works as a model/social media influencer. She describes herself as a ‘brand ambassador’ and while it’s not clear to her family members exactly what she does for a living, Natalie believes she is promoting ethical fashion, eco-friendly beauty products and sustainable travel. Natalie thinks she has the ability to create positive change in people’s lives by inspiring her followers, the ‘NatPack’, to be mindful of what they are consuming. Using natural products – like the Snail Slime conditioner she swears by for luscious hair – is a one simple thing you can do for yourself. Natalie encourages people to include self-care and wellness rituals into their lives and advertises products she believes will help in this process.
‘As the play unfolds it becomes clear to Natalie that maybe her financial support isn't enough, and maybe if she was actually present instead of just sending presents, her family would be in a better place.’
Her income is very important, as she has been able to provide some financial stability in times of trouble for her family, especially when her mother’s medical bills needed to paid. Her siblings would appreciate her spending more time at home helping with day-to-day tasks associated with looking after their mother but find themselves in a difficult position. If she is around more her work opportunities are limited and she is not earning the money her family have come to rely on.
Natalie has been lured home by Teresa to help with the surprise clean up. She doesn’t genuinely believe it’s going to work – this isn’t the first time they have tried to clean the house. She expects to spend a few days at home, do some fun things, and then be off again doing what she wants to do. But as the play unfolds it becomes clear to Natalie that maybe her financial support isn’t enough, and maybe if she was actually present instead of just sending presents, her family would be in a better place.
How do you embody your character? For example, specific gestures, vocal qualities, facial expressions, style of movement or helpful costume elements?
Natalie is used to having people pay attention to her and is constantly aware of how she is presenting herself so I’m working that into my physicality. She is always photo ready. Natalie doesn’t just sit on a chair; she makes sure she is always in a flattering model-like position.
Gradually throughout the play she becomes more relaxed and puts less focus into the way she presents herself. I wear a big skirt in the first half of the play and I have a rehearsal version of my costume to practise in so I know how I can move around the set. We wear slides/slippers so we have been rehearsing in them so we feel comfortable. I have also been watching influencers online and incorporating vocal qualities and tone into my performance.
In your opinion, what is this play about, and why is it being told now?
This is probably the most important question, especially when creating new work. Hoarding disorder is often misunderstood. The play gives a glimpse into what life is for someone with Hoarding disorder and explores the complexity and consequences if it is left untreated.
Humans need to be connected physically, socially, psychologically to other humans. When we feel devalued or unloved we seek out closeness. If you can’t form that connection with others it’s understandable to see why people may turn to objects as a substitute. Possessions can remind you of your past, but what if you find it difficult to separate your memories from the object and even the thought of discarding an object makes you highly anxious? What if you begin to endow objects with personalities? What if you start collecting stuff with intended use but never get around to using it? A cycle begins and the clutter begins to pile up. While treatment can be helpful to many with Hoarding disorder, there is no definitive cure.
‘At the heart of this show is a family trying to deal with a problem bigger than themselves.’
At the heart of this show is a family trying to deal with a problem bigger than themselves. The trauma the family has survived begins to be revealed. We see the struggles of a family migrating to Australia and creating a new life. What the human heart can tolerate under great loss. And yet despite all of this, the show is a wonderful comedy. A dark, funny, sometimes disturbing piece. Like the characters in the play, you don’t know what you’re going to find once you start digging beneath the layers: Motherhood. Parenting. Family. Migration. Trauma. Grief. Love. Consumption. Connection. Social disconnection. Change. Loneliness. Resilience. Hope.
What’s the most exciting challenge for you in Torch the Place and why?
I love doing new work; it’s what I’m most passionate about as an artist. New work is challenging because often the script is changing throughout the rehearsal process. There are some things you can’t find out until you actually get the play up on its feet and start working with the script on the floor so you need to remain open and flexible throughout the process.
Torch the Place has an extremely complicated set that revolves and lots of props so technically it’s very challenging as an actor. The play has never been performed for an audience, so previews are crucial to help us know how the play is being received, what is working and what bits need to be adjusted or finessed. It’s the first time all of the creative elements (design, lighting, sound) fully come together with the text and actors and crew. The director can see the production as a whole and together everyone works to make sure the play connects to the audience.
Torch the Place is on at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio.
Published on 24 February 2020