Nancye Hayes and Reg Livermore combine their much-lauded talents in the world premiere tour of TURNS, a “pantomime with a twist” – where no matter what, the show must simply go on. Karen Farrell speaks with Nancye Hayes about her starring role in the production.
TURNS – devised and written by Reg Livermore – pays homage to the entire gamut of theatrical styles, including comedy, Vaudeville, Burlesque dance and song. The production also examines the more serious themes of dementia and depression.
At the ripe age of 95, Marjory Joy (Nancye Hayes), who suffers from dementia, romanticises and relives the glorious days of her past as a great Dame of the theatre. Holed up in a flat with her carer and son Alistair (Reg Livermore), Marjory spends most of her waking hours acting out a life lived treading the boards … there’s dancing, there’s singing and there’s romance – Marjory is having a seemingly wonderful time losing her marbles – but how reliable is her memory?
Alistair, who keeps a vigilant check on his madcap mother, struggles deeply to understand her. Not wishing to upset the apple cart, Alistair goes along with some of her fantasies, metamorphosing into the roles of Marjory’s doctor, husband and sometime best friend.
TURNS is a reflection on identity, the price paid to sustain theatrical life, family and its responsibilities and the fickle world of show business.
Karen Farrell caught up with Nancye Hayes to talk about her role playing pantomime star Marjory Joy.
Your character, Marjory Joy, experiences a kaleidoscopic range of emotions. Is Marjory a performer’s dream for you?
It certainly is a challenge for me, as I’ve never done anything quite like this. A lot of it is in monologue form. I have done monologues before, but Marjory flitters from one subject to the other and she gets a lot of things muddled up because of her state of mind.
It took a bit of learning, as it’s sometimes not as logical as one would hope, and this was a big challenge. I’ve done a lot of singing and dancing over the years, but this show is a bit off-the-wall.
Marjory oscillates between present day to her once cherished lustrous theatre career?
Exactly. The show starts in a pantomime fashion – with a Vaudevillian number, and then she informs us about her life in the theatre. Reg’s role during the early part of the show is to sometimes play my son, who is my carer. Marjory also thinks he is the doctor, or her husband, or even a friend. She’s going in and out of various states of realities or non-realities … She is amusing, but also puzzling. As a writer, Reg likes to take people on a journey and deliver them safely at the other end.
With dementia so prevalent in society, people will likely relate to this character?
Indeed. A lot of people are going through this with elderly parents, and lots of elderly people are having this problem.
Your working relationship with Reg Livermore dates back to the 1960s. Reg has written extensively for himself, yet this is the first role he’s written for another person. How did you feel when Reg told you he’d created Marjory especially for you?
A responsibility to get it right! It’s a privilege to have something especially written for you and to be sharing the stage with him. When we did My Fair Lady for Opera Australia a couple of years ago, we started to talk about him writing something for us – and this is how it all began.
Two-hander productions can be highly intense for actors. I imagine working closely with someone you know could make the experience very rewarding?
It is. We know when something is going right or wrong; you can always see the twinkle in the eye! He’s very much onside and there to help, and I hope I’m the same with him.
TURNS is traversing the country. It must be terrific to be part of making theatrical experiences accessible to regional areas?
It is lovely to get to the regional theatres. Some lovely theatres are being built now, and for many years people from regional areas have had to travel into town to see shows we’ve been involved in. It’s wonderful that we can now go out to them.
Has the successes and longevity of your career been in part due to diversifying into directing, choreography and teaching?
Absolutely. It’s about being able to go in another direction when one thing isn’t available and being able to direct or choreograph. I really enjoy going into WAPPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts) to work with young people … it’s a great thrill to watch them get a break and go on to do all sorts of things.
I wondered if you have a trusted mantra you recite when you’re in the wings?
I do. I have a little locket that my mother gave me when I played my first leading role, which I have with me always and hold tightly before I leave my dressing room. I really feel a bit spooked if I forget to do that.
What was it like to play Roxie Hart in Chicago, and do you rate this as one of your all-time best performances?
One of my very favourites … when Richard Wherrett from Sydney Theatre Company said to me, “Would you like to play Roxie?”, I was thrilled. It was only going to run for six weeks but it had such a great cast, creative and production team, that we ended up playing it for a number of years.
Tell us about that magical relationship between a performer and the audience?
It’s really magical when you get reactions from an audience, even if it’s silence, because you know people are moved or totally involved. It’s a real adrenalin hit.
And laughter, of course, is the best medicine. I just love to hear an audience laugh. To a point, it’s a two-way love affair.
Friday 29 April at 8pm and Saturday 30 April at 2pm at the Manning Entertainment Centre.
BOOKINGS: (02) 6592 5466 – www.gtcc.nsw.gov.au