Buvette Masthead

Preview: Head full of love

Sophia Dickinson

For two nights only, Canberra audiences have the chance to enjoy another fabulous work by Alana Valentine, one of Australia’s top playwrights. You might have been lucky enough to see her play MP in 2011, which was commissioned by Canberra’s Street Theatre. If not, then you’re in luck because this week Alana and the Street Theatre bring you Head full of love –  the story of two remarkable women who cross paths at the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaktu Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, also known as Purple House.

Tilly Napuljari (played by Paula Delaney Nazarski – Mother Courage and Her Children, Cat on a Hot Tin Roo, An Oak Tree), a patient at Purple House, is running out of time to make her entry for the annual Alice Springs Beanie Festival (which you may have heard about in the news recently as it runs every year in June). Sydneysider Nessa Tavistock (Annie Byron, Biddies, Hedda Gabler, Muriel’s Wedding) has come to the Red Centre to escape her own problems. As the women crochet and get to know each other, they accept their differences and discover a friendship that transcends cultures.

Playwright Alana Valentine has won numerous awards including the BBC International Radio Playwriting Competition, English as a first language award for The Ravens in 2014, the Queensland Premier’s Award for Best Drama Script in 2011 and the Helpmann Awards for Best New Australian Work and Best Play in 2007. While NSW students study her plays Parramatta Girls and Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah as part of the Drama and English syllabus.

Ahead of its opening tomorrow night, I caught up with Alana to talk inspiration for Head full of love, her creative process and her love of Canberra.

Sophia: What inspired you to write Head full of love?

Alana: I went to central Australia in 2008. I had the privilege of going to Purple House when a friend was working with the Jimmy Little foundation. I saw how many people, including young people, are affected by kidney disease. I was introduced to a number women being treated at Purple House and making beanies for the festival. I thought it would be a really interesting way to see how friendships develop in those circumstances.

How long does it take you to write a play? 

Most take between two and four years. I work in a consultative way, bringing the community of interest who I work with along with me. I’m keen that the community have their say, are consulted, that takes time… Because Head full of love was so research-heavy, I needed to spend an extended amount of time with these women.

Is this a play about reconciliation?

The play is about a beautiful, difficult and tested friendship. That the women are both non-indigenous and indigenous women, and the director is indigenous, I made a commitment to bringing the community along, so it’s indelible that Head full of love is about reconciliation. But at its heart, it’s about the difference between two people.

I’m just trying to write about my own experience of developing a friendship with these women, including this horrific disease affecting so many people of the Central Desert mob.

Would you call Head full of love pure verbatim, as some of your other works are?

I wouldn’t even call this play verbatim; it’s just very carefully researched dramatic writing. Tilley’s way of speaking is drawn from real life, and includes her native language. Head full of love is not any one character or situation, it’s a mixture. It doesn’t fit into the verbatim category.

What is significant about having only the two characters, Tilly and Nessa?

Plays are about different things. As a playwright, like when you’re cooking a meal, you may have only two ingredients you want to focus on. I didn’t need a big cast for Head full of love.

The play itself tells you what form it’s going to take. You get to know the characters very well and can show them in all their complexity… Having only two characters was a conscious choice dictated by the material.

There are things about Nessa that are also supremely dysfunctional, she’s having a lot of trouble of her own. Too often in plays it’s the indigenous characters that have the problems. I wanted to show both and the various aspects of Tilley’s character.

You have been to Canberra numerous times for work, what do you like about it?

I will use any reason to come to Canberra. Even though I went to opening of the Head full of love tour in Wollongong, I’ll come to see it again in Canberra. I love the physical environment of Canberra. Walking around, I think Canberra has some of the greatest architectural designs in Australia.

There’s an intelligent theatre-going audience in Canberra. MP was complicated and dense, whereas Head full of love is different – it’s very funny, warm and full of love.

I love coming [to Canberra] work and when I’m not working, I like to stay in the Nishi building and I love Monster Kitchen and Bar, I love all of the NewActon precinct — the craft and vintage markets — it’s so fabulous! I could go on, there are so many places I’ve been – Red Hill nature reserve, and I really like all the cultural institutions and Lake Burley Griffin.

The essentials

What: Head Full of Love, a play by Alana Valentine, presented by the Queensland Theatre Company
When: 7:30pm Friday 3 and Saturday 4 July 2015
Where: The Street Theatre. 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
How much: $29 student, $37 concession, $39 standard, $35 each groups 4+
Tickets: Available online from The Street Theatre

Canberra audiences are also invited to donate to Purple House online


Sophia Dickinson

Sophia is a true Canberra girl having been born and raised here, and she now works in the public service. She loves Canberra for all it has given her from a great education, fulfilling work to opportunities to indulge her love of dance and music. She is passionate about travel and writing, and studied post-graduate media and communication. She has appeared in several local amateur theatre productions, although she prefers to be an audience member these days. More about the Author