Gillian Cosgriff loves a good yearn. And what better way to get her fix than to play Emily in Come Rain or Come Shine, a new musical based on a short story by the master storyteller of longing, memory and nostalgia, himself – Kazuo Ishiguro.
‘I love a yearn. God, I love a yearn,’ Cosgriff emphatically says. ‘It’s really nice to have that in the centre of this story … and for the longing and sadness to be held within this loving friendship and to contrast with the shenanigans that play out.’
Cosgriff is also thrilled to be part of the team bringing a new work to life. ‘I love to be in the room for a new work, to see the ways that people work together and how things are changing and shifting all the time.’ It’s not her first foray working on new production at MTC. In 2017 she was in Vivid White, Eddie Perfect’s satirical musical, with a cast of seven. ‘Eddie Perfect would disappear overnight and come back the next day with a new song,’ Cosgriff reflects, and then adds while laughing, ‘How dare he be that good at this?’
You can tell Cosgriff shares this sentiment for the Come Rain or Come Shine creative team from the way she beams while talking about them. ‘Everybody has a greater goal of trying to come up with the best version of this show. It’s very exciting to be seeing rewrites happening on the fly, and to be in such a respectful collaboration, not just between Tim, Simon and Carolyn, but with the whole team.’
While no doubt thrilling and creatively rewarding, surely managing rewrites during rehearsals offers up its challenges? ‘You have to be malleable,’ Cosgriff responds. Though she did ask herself before rehearsals, ‘How does this work again? Do I learn all my lines before we start?’ To her, it’s like building a house. ‘I thought, this is a house we’re going to be continually renovating … so I made myself very familiar with the structure as it existed, because I wanted to have the walls and a floor – knowing that all the trimmings would be continually changing – but if I came in with a house fully built, I’d just have to tear it down.’
Angus Grant and Gillian Cosgriff in Come Rain or Come Shine. Photo: Jeff Busby
It’s not just that Cosgriff loves working on new productions – ‘new work is very much my bag’ – she was also attracted to the story. ‘It’s the most unusual and beautiful combination of melancholy and comedy,’ she says. What also stood out to her is the ‘way it’s deceptively simple but it actually really cuts you to the core beneath the surface.’
So though simply a three-hander musical based on a short story, ‘it really covers so much rich, fertile ground in terms of the relationships and themes that are present throughout it.’ It’s about friendship, love, success and happiness and what they all mean over time, but what Cosgriff sees most is how it explores expectation around all of those. Her character Emily is ‘on the up and up and up,’ always looking for that next promotion or next step, always building and growing. And her husband Charlie, ‘possibly feels the pressure that she expects that from him, too.’ Their friend Ray, on the other hand, is ‘perfectly happy doing his own thing and what he’s been doing since college.’ Emily and Charlie, caught up in their world of success and ambition, find Ray’s life hard to fathom, thinking he has given up and life is passing him by. ‘I think that’s a very current idea, the notion of self-improvement and hustling to get ahead, contrasted with trying to be present and happy with what you have.’
Cosgriff jokes that though she really likes Emily, she also would like her to sit down, turn off her phone and have a cup of tea. ‘Which is also want I want for myself sometimes. I understand that she has this beautiful ambition and drive. But that also can be very challenging – she has the house, the marriage, the holiday, the car and the promotion but can’t feel any of it. And that's deeply relatable for a lot of people.’
Gillian Cosgriff in Come Rain or Come Shine. Photo: Jeff Busby
It’s the way the show subtly examines these big life questions that Cosgriff is equally fascinated by. ‘It’s just in a handful of lines and conversation,’ she says. You won’t see characters making sweeping monologues about what success and ambition means to them. ‘I think it’s really beautiful that the big themes of this show are encapsulated in the small, domestic moments. It’s very good writing in that way.’
What’s also distinct for Cosgriff about this show is the music. ‘Because Emily and Ray have this shared love of the Great American Songbook, you’re hearing those jazz standards threaded in with this new, original music. It’s very unusual to have that combination of something old, something new,’ she says and then jokingly continues ‘something borrowed, something blue – literally, you really do have those blues.’
All jokes aside, Cosgriff can’t overstate how amazing it is to be part of a new Australian musical. ‘To see theatre companies commissioning new Australian musicals and valuing the stories we have to tell here, and the incredible skills of Australian creatives is brilliant to see. We have so much talent in this country, it’s wonderful to see it being supported and nurtured.’
Come Rain or Come Shine is on stage until 23 July at Southbank Theatre.
Published on 5 July 2022