When a group of ladies – former school mates – revisit their old classroom, there can be some interesting consequences! Written by Don Reid, the same playwright who brought us the hilariously funny production Codgers, Biddies explores what it means to face growing older. We meet one of the amazing stars of Biddies – Annie Byron
What’s Biddies actually about?
It’s about a group of women who went to the same school who come together after all the intervening years to work on a project for the school. What surfaces are various conflicts and patterns of behaviour that are quite old and also, they have a growing awareness of perhaps what might have been missing from their own education!
The character you play – Beryl. What’s she like?
She’s described in the play as having a small life. She’s had a very stable and happy marriage, but now she’s going through an unsettling time. Beryl has a couple of children who are now adults, and she’s the sort of woman for whom husband and family are the focus of her life. She’s never had a career, and she doesn’t have a lot of confidence. So here she is, well into middle-age, and really feeling quite insecure with her place in the world.
Considering the extent of the Biddies tour, how do actually manage to keep the production fresh?
That’s a part of the job, really. We have quite a lot of days off in between – travel days and days off – but part of the skill of performance is you have to be able to do that whether you’re travelling between shows or doing the same one night after night in the same place. It’s a big question to try to answer, I guess …
You’ve had a lot of television experience too – your acting resume contains probably every major Australian show, like The Sullivans, The Flying Doctors and A Country Practice, as well as stage experience. Both types of acting obviously require completely different skills, and I’m thinking of the comparison between the two roles … recalling that many stage actors have said to me that the hardest part of acting is the repetition!
Yes, but I guess you’re getting lots of opportunities to get it right by performing over and over again too. The thing that does make it different all the time is the audience. It’s extraordinary what an impact the audience has – they’re really like an extra character. Audiences have a feel to them … some are quiet, but very warm, others … actually, we’ve had varying responses from the audiences.
That’s been one of the joys of doing this show! It’s been a delight to travel round the country and bring this production to people.
In terms of audience reactions, you’d probably expect a positive reaction from older women, as they’d relate to the characters and the action. What’s the reaction from the younger audience members been like?
That’s been really thrilling! In Brisbane, an actor we all know came to see our show and afterwards; he was gobsmacked! He said there were all these teenagers and 20-somethings down the front, waving their arms at the end of the show and wanting to be Biddies! There is an invitation at the end for audience members to join in – not in any scary way (laughs) – and this actor was flabbergasted that there were so many young people wanting to join in and be a part of it all.
So it has had a positive response from the young people as well – everyone has mothers and grandmothers, so they’re experiencing the show from the outside in. And men too! Many men may have been dragged along to the show, but they’ve found a lot to enjoy as well!
If there is one solid theme or life lesson audience members could take away from Biddies, what would that be?
I think the play is about having the courage to stand up and be yourself. There’s a message at the end of the play that says, “Biddies are doing it for themselves”… so I think it’s about rejoicing in who and what we are.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 64 of Manning-Great Lakes Focus