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Review: The Importance of Being Miriam  

Heather Wallace

You may know her as earthy Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter films. Or perhaps you know her as stuffy Aunt Prudence from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on the ABC. Then again you may have heard her voice without ever realising it, as loving Fly who fosters Babe the pig or in the dubbed version of the cult 70s series, Monkey.

She is Miriam Margolyes, and her work has stretched across film, TV, radio and theatre for more than 50 years. However you know her, an evening spent in her company will show a new side of Miriam that will delight you. Her show, The Importance of Being Miriam, opens in Canberra on Wednesday 6 May for five nights and is a must-see for lovers of theatre, comedy and literature.

The title is of course a reference to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and ties directly to her career; she’s played Miss Prism, the once-aspiring novelist who couldn’t distinguish a baby from a handbag. This time it’s the wrathful Lady Bracknell Miriam brings to life on stage, one of the many character studies she presents over the course of the evening.

The show is a delightful mix of monologues, music hall songs, and anecdotes from her long career. They weave together and take the audience on a journey through early 20th century England, her school days in Oxford, tryouts as a young actress, working on Broadway and performing at a lesbian theatre festival to an audience of 200 naked women!

I don’t want to describe her stories in detail, I can’t tell them as well as she does and I don’t want to rob you of the joy of hearing them from Miriam herself. I will say though that she does a perfect imitation of Dame Maggie Smith, a long time friend and colleague who was a senior girl at their Oxford secondary school in the 1950s.

I was lucky enough to see the show in Melbourne and I was enchanted with this impish performer, as she swings from high to lowbrow without breaking a sweat. Her love of life and literature washes over the audience, and she pays them the great compliment of assuming they are as well read as she is, presenting vignettes from some of English literature’s greatest works.

Miriam brings to life scorned and derided women from Bleak House and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (whom she describes as the most important man in her life), laugh out lines from Unreliable Memoir by Clive James followed by his heart wrenching poem Japanese Maple, and scenes from Romeo and Juliet. On the surface these vignettes seem to have little in common but Miriam’s skill is in showing how they are all about reaching out and communicating with the world around us.

Joining her on stage is pianist John Martin, who backs her up and entertains with some rousing solo pieces. They are a lovely double act and continue the partnership that began with Miriam’s stage show Dickens’ Women that toured Australia and New Zealand several years ago.

Miriam Margolyes shines on stage and her love of Australia, her new home country, shines brightest of all. Canberra holds a special place in her heart, as it was here in 2013 that she received her Australian citizenship from Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Performing in Canberra will be a very special occasion for both Miriam and the audience and is not one to be missed. You can even send your own jokes and anecdotes to share on the night through the show’s website!

When she answers her own question, ‘what’s the importance of being Miriam?’, by saying there is no importance, please tell her she’s wrong. The importance of Miriam is that she is compassionate, kind and witty, a wonderful storyteller who shares from her heart. I wish there were more like her.

Giveaway: Win 1 of 3 double passes and the chance to meet Miriam!

The Canberra Theatre Centre are offering HerCanberra readers the chance to win one of three double passes to the opening night of The Importance of Being Miriam on 6 May 2015 as well as an exclusive backstage meet and greet with Miriam herself. To enter, simply answer the below question and email your answer along with your contact details to [email protected] by 5pm Thursday 23 April.

Question: What is your favourite on-screen character played by Miriam Margolyes and why? 

Note that by entering this competition your entry may be passed on to the competition organisers. 

The essentials

What: The Importance of Being Miriam
Where: Canberra Theatre Centre
When: Wednesday 6 to Sunday 10 May 2015
How much: $95 (adults), $85 (concessions), $49 (under 27s and students)
Web: www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (http://mythsandmisadventures.blogspot.com.au/), is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author

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