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Australian literary masterpiece takes to the stage

Helena Game and Olivia Afiabo

Those familiar with Frank Moorhouse’s award-winning Edith trilogy will be well acquainted with Edith Campbell Berry.

The ambition and vision of the trilogy’s heroine has made her an iconic Australian literary character and, next month, Edith will be brought to life for the first time on stage at The Street Theatre in the production of Cold Lightthe final novel in the trilogy.

The play has been adapted by award-winning playwright Alana Valentine, (MP, Letters to Lindy) and is directed by The Street’s Artistic Director and CEO, Caroline Stacey. Edith herself will be played by AFI award-winning actress Sonia Todd, (McLeod’s Daughters, Police Rescue).

Cold Light completes Edith’s story, as she and her husband return to Australia from Europe in the 1950s to live in Canberra, where she pursues her new ambition of becoming the first female ambassador. Along the way, Edith deals with her Communist brother turning up (to the great interest of ASIO), while being swept away with the planning of the nation’s Capital, and the hopes for the city’s future.

The production began in 2013 when The Street and the Centenary of Canberra committee worked together to commission Alana to adapt the novel. She acknowledges that it’s a great feat to adapt such a classic Australian novel.

“There is a specific pressure in bringing such an iconic story and character to the stage,” she says. “I think one of the challenges is that this character is not just well known but well loved, and the book is arguably one of the great Australian masterpieces in terms of novels, so there’s a certain intimidation.’”

Alana says she hopes that the play speaks to audiences on many levels, the same way the novel has done for years.

“I think encounters with great literature, whether its on the page or on the stage, should be profoundly spiritual ones,” she says. “We should understand something about who we are as an individual, but also who we are as a nation, in a way that we’ve never understood it before”.

Alana Valentine

Alana Valentine

Author and creator of Edith herself, Frank Moorhouse, says he’s glad that the Cold Light production will keep its connection to Canberra.

“I am particularly gratified that the play will be performed in the wake of our celebration of the centenary of the establishment of our national capital and produced by The Street, a Canberra-based theatre company with a high reputation in Australia,” he says.

For Director Caroline, Cold Light will be a highlight of The Street’s 2017 season.

Cold Light is our Canberra blockbuster for 2017 and represents theatrical storytelling on a grand scale spanning decades, major historical events, fictional characters and people who actually lived, social mores, sumptuary laws, the personal and political.”

Director Caroline Stacey

Caroline Stacey

“Hugely rich in its complexity with resonance and relevance to all Australians, we are thrilled to be able to bring this contemporary classic and Canberra-themed work to life on our stage with Sonia Todd stepping into Edith’s shoes,” she says.

Todd, who is eager to step into the well-loved Edith’s shoes and bring the character to life for the stage, says that it’s a challenging role.

“I think it’s the size of the role—the vastness of the emotional and intellectual of her,” she explains. “The work is quite vast in terms of its scope in all of those areas. So for an actress, it’s great to be served up the opportunity of tackling a role like that.”

“[Edith] has a wonderful duality in her personality. She’s the sort of person you would want to spend time around because she’s so intellectually athletic. But there are times that you really want to shake her as well, and say, ‘what did you make that choice for? What are you doing that for?’”

Sonia Todd as Edith Campbell Berry

Sonia Todd as Edith Campbell Berry

Shaped and woven by a team of dedicated creators and actors, Cold Light is sure to depict a complex time in Canberra’s history that some may recall, but all are sure to appreciate through the lens of Edith, a fictional character experiencing a the real world and its real life events.

When asked about the pressure of directing such a well-known story, Caroline is thoughtful.

“I wouldn’t call them pressures, they’re just responsibilities,” she says. “Obviously the paramount is to create an interesting theatrical journey in a work that moves from the eroticism of a look and a touch in a moment to big ideas and political minds rubbing up against one and another to a woman who is able both to take advantage of and is also restricted by transformational times.”

Even if you are unfamiliar with the original trilogy, Cold Light will be one not to miss. With its vast exploration of Australia’s past, it invites viewers to reflect on how they can affect the world they inhabit and how they might shape future generations.

the essentials

What: Cold Light
When: Saturday 4 March – Saturday 18 March 2017
Where: The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Civic
Find more information about tickets and session times here.

Feature image: Shelly Higgs

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Helena Game

Helena is a wannabe journalist studying Communications and Journalism at the University of Canberra. Canberra born and bred, she is hopelessly in love with writing, stories and travel. She recently wrote her way around Japan for a creative writing study tour, and spent another two weeks in the Middle East on a journalism exchange, both of which have left her with a proper case of the post-travel blues. While she plots her next adventure, Helena is hoping to gain as much industry experience as humanly possible, and somehow finish her degree at the same time. More about the Author


Olivia Afiabo

Olivia grew up in Canberra before moving off to Wollongong to study creative writing at the University of Wollongong. After receiving a Bachelor’s of Creative Arts degree she returned to the Capital to pursue a career in writing and publishing. The first step in this journey has been interning at HerCanberra and, though she misses the beach, being back with family and old friends has been a welcome change. There’s nothing she loves more than reading, writing and watching football (the ‘no hands allowed’ variety). More about the Author

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