Black Swan caught up with much loved Mandy McElhinney (Wakefield, Love Child, Paper Giants) who is starring in our upcoming production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.
Where did you spend your childhood?
We moved around a bit as a family. The majority of our childhood though was spent in the small, coastal northern town of Leeman in Western Australia, the Yued region. It was an amazing place for a childhood; a school and community where everyone knew everyone, offering us the freedom of hours of unsupervised exploring of sand dunes, caves and scrub on our well-worn bikes.
When and how was your interest in the arts first sparked? Who nurtured your passion?
Teachers. To be really seen by a teacher is the most wonderful thing that can happen to a person and has the ability to change your life in a dramatic way. In that tiny school I was lucky to have some attentive teachers who saw that although I was extremely shy, I loved to pretend to be different people and tell stories. I was then lucky enough to have an angel, Mrs Linda Martin teach me drama in high school and it was she that introduced me to the great writers of the theatre and that is when I first realised that I could choose it as a career.
You have created some of the most memorable Australian characters on TV – Matron Mary Francis in Love Child, Nene King in Magazine Wars: Paper Giants, Rose in Howzat, Kerry Packer’s War, Gina in House of Hancock, and most recently as Linda Crowley in Wakefield. Where do you find inspiration? Who are your biggest influences?
I can find inspiration from anywhere; a piece of music, an image, a film. Good writing can be the keys to unlock inspiration, challenge rigid thinking and feed the creative soul. It is one of the more pleasurable aspects of what we do and vital to leading a happy, connected, vibrant life. I believe it is important for all humans to look for creative inspiration regardless of their profession and that is why as a healthy society we must regard the arts as one of our most valuable resources. I am constantly inspired by the work of theatre makers in this country; we have a wealth of world class artists here. I am also looking forward to welcoming back more international artists once again after the recent years of isolation.
What has been your favourite role to play and why?
I adored playing Nene King in Paper Giants: Magazine Wars; there was something very liberating about her energy, her blunt honesty and her unapologetic ambition which is unusual, generally for female characters. As a character, she wasn't suffering in silence, she put all her joy and pain out there and for an introvert like me, that was an exhilarating experience. It helped, of course that I had a terrific director, Daina Reid (another Perth girl) and production team supporting me all the way. I find that it is the people we work with that linger longer in the memory than the characters. Of course, all the characters I have played have shaped who I am as a person but the collaborators and the experiences we had creating together are unforgettable.
What kind of night can Black Swan audiences expect with The Glass Menagerie?
I hope they will have a night that is significant just for them in their own personal and unique way but feel connected to the people around them and to us as performers. I love that theatre happens in real time with an audience in the same way live music does and that it is a truly shared experience. The simple truth about this beautiful play is that it is a man trying to come to terms with his family of origin and his own desires to live a life unburdened by them. We have all, in our own way had to make choices where we may have to disappoint those we love or in a broader sense, what we believe society expects of us. It is a complex issue that cuts to the very core of what it is to be an individual in the world at large. This is truly one of the best plays ever written and it is filled with heart, beauty, poetry, humour and magic. It is the most autobiographical of Tennessee Williams' work and its debut changed the course of modern theatre.
This is your debut with Black Swan, what does it mean to come back to your home state to perform?
Funnily enough, as a 13 year old, Mrs Martin, my drama teacher, had me learn one of Amanda Wingfield's speeches in The Glass Menagerie for an assignment so it feels incredible fitting that I should return to my home state playing the same character. My friends and family have been incredibly understanding over the years as I have missed many important events due to my stage and screen commitments so it is nice to be able to come back and show them what it's all been about. I am so excited to be playing at His Majesty's Theatre, I saw many productions in this beautiful historic theatre in my youth and of course, dreamed that one day I would perform there so it is literally a dream come true. I am thrilled I get to play this gift of a role with the fabulous Clare Watson and the brilliant cast and creatives she has assembled.
The Glass Menagerie is showing at His Majesty's Theatre from 2 - 21 August.