X5 2017 Masthead
Talk hannah waterman feature

All Talk with Hannah Waterman

Ashleigh Went

This year, Canberra Theatre Centre is bringing a stellar line up of shows with some key historic and contemporary classics: think Cyrano de Bergerac, The Popular Mechanics, MAMMA MIA! and 1984.

While we are fervent stalwarts of a good classic, every now and then a show presents itself that’s so relevant, so now that we can’t help but stop and take notice.

Jonathan Biggins’ Talk is just that. With its commentary on the 24-hour news cycle, social media, the landscape of media and of course those infamous ‘alternative facts’, the timing of this show is perfect.

It was this, in part, which attracted actress Hannah Waterman to the show.

“Jonathan sent me the play, and I thought it was really interesting – very of the moment in what he confronts within it. He’s always said that it will be over if it’s not done quickly, because the topic is so zeitgeist. From that point of view, it’s on the money.”

The story is based on a shock jock radio host John Behan (played by John Waters), who oversteps the mark when he releases the name of a sex offender. Rather than turn himself in, John barricades himself in the studio and a trial by media ensues, threatening to turn out of control.

Hannah plays the role of an acting editor of a tabloid, a character she describes as not particularly sympathetic, but well intentioned, and under tremendous pressure due to cuts in the newspaper.

“What really appealed to me is that Talk has some very strong female characters for mature actresses, all who could have been written with men in mind. I kind of thought, for a male writer to be thinking about women playing these roles and commenting on it… it’s just not that common.”

“In the same way, the shock jock’s producer is also played by a forty-plus woman. It’s unusual to be in a play where a) fifty percent of the cast is female, and b) we’re all grown-ups” Hannah laughs.

This character is an interesting role for Hannah, who herself has been the subject of tabloid news in the UK, having appeared on a number of television series including EastEnders.

“I’ve had my fair share of British tabloid press, I would say. I guess it does give you a bit of a take on it. She’s is a proper journalist at the end of the day, so she’s not as cut and dry a villain as you might first expect” she says.

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“I’m not a great believer that you have to like the parts you play as an actor. I think even if you don’t particularly like the character, if you can find something that makes them relatable – like a reason why they behave the way that they do – then you can justify it. Otherwise it’s just too two dimensional.”

A quick glance of press photos from Talk reveals that the stage is something rather extraordinary, with multiple levels and limited black outs between scenes.

“It’s an amazing design by Mark Thompson” says Hannah. “It’s a split level set, so it’s almost like a sitcom where the audience sees each different world as the lights come up. It’s two levels: on the ground floor there’s the tabloid office, then there’s the office of radio ABC National. Upstairs is the shock jock’s lair with his glass booth, which John Waters is in for the entire play, bar one quick excursion.”

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The cast was treated to a replica set for rehearsals, a luxury which according to Hannah is a rarity in theatre production. It’s just one of the many benefits she enjoys in working for the Sydney Theatre Company.

“I really do like the company. Not one person has moaned, no one has been tricky to work with… Peter Kowitz, John Waters, Valerie Bader, they’re absolute veterans and they’re generous, kind and caring. I’ve had a sick child recently, and every single member of the company has been in touch or asked me how he’s going. It’s a very happy job, and I’d work with any of them again.”

Hannah says that since relocating from the UK with her husband (fellow actor Huw Higginson) and son four years ago, she has been welcomed by the industry.

“I have to say that we’ve been made to feel very welcome by our fellow Australian actors and directors, and whilst it’s taken a little while for me to establish myself, I feel very much a part of the community here. In a way, that’s something we don’t have in London, because it’s so much bigger and much more disparate.”

When it comes to performing an Australian show to an Australian audience, Hannah says that Talk has received mixed reactions.

“We’ve come to expect the unexpected. Some day’s we’ll have an audience that’s obviously quite impacted by the messages or topics that Jonathan is confronting, and you almost get the feeling that while they enjoy it, there’s a feeling of tragedy or inevitability. And then, people that know Jonathan’s writing will know that he’s a man of the gag and a satirist, so we’ll often have a jam packed matinee audience that roars with laughter from beginning to end.”

“It’s quite challenging in what it’s asking us to think about, but it’s very funny as well.”

the essentials

What: Talk
Where: The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre
When: 31 May – 3 June
How much: -$45-$75. A $4.95 transaction fee also applies
Web: canberratheatrecentre.com.au/show/talk

Photography by Brett Boardman

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Ashleigh Went

Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. She’s currently furthering her studies in nutrition, but also has a Bachelor of Communication and is a qualified fitness instructor with over five years experience working in a gym. Among other things, she’s a lover of great food, coffee and fashion. She can usually be found shopping for activewear, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue More about the Author