Alison Whyte stars in the latest Malthouse reinvention, The Bloody Chamber, telling the legendary story of the sinister Bluebeard and his ‘missing’ wives.
Whyte describes it as her most challenging role to date." It is very enjoyable as soon I start make little ‘conquests’ (I suppose you call them) as you work your way through the text, and hopefully I will get to the point where I’m going to enjoy doing it," she says. "In terms of its challenge it’s fabulously challenging. It’s got acute magnitude; it’s a solo show with a lot of words. Of course there are people coming in to support me in terms of the music and another actor coming in to help tell this fabulous tale, but is definitely the most challenging role I have ever done."
The play is about a young woman who yields to her desire for luxury and marries a rich – and very dangerous – man. Abandoned by her husband on their wedding night, he offers her instead the keys to the castle – so long as she doesn’t enter the secret room …
For Whyte the play is about expulsion, about changing things that can be changed, it is about the abolition of people grubbing for money and grubbing for power, and actually going with you heart and having certain sense of morality – something she says she craves for and which she thinks is missing in our society. It’s about erasing monsters and there’s a lot of them that live amongst us. It’s about trying to expel all those demons.
Whyte was excitedly drawn into the project with the prospect of working with Matt Lutton again. "We had been trying to work together since I did Tartuffe for him about 5 years ago, and neither of us could sync up our work schedules since," she says. " He just thrust the short story into my hand and said, “What do you think? Do you reckon we could adapt it? Do you reckon you could do it?” At that stage we didn’t have a script, and at this stage I think Van Badham, who has adapted it, has done about 30 drafts. A great creative team drew me to this project, and it’s a really great team."
Whyte is a Logie and Helpmann award winning actor and she shares an hysterical story about her award night memories: "Well the times I was sober… no, I’m joking – I’m joking. Well, the first Logie that I won I wasn’t aware I was up for it because the ABC failed to tell me, and I had had a couple of wines. I was sitting at table with my friend Christopher Stollery, in Colin Friels seats with his name plate, and he just won Most Outstanding Male Actor. Then suddenly, I notice this camera was trained on me, and I picked up the little name plate of Collin Friels and put in front of the lens going, “I just won a Logie, I just won a Logie”. The cameraman, who drank at the pub that we owned at the time, and was saying to me; “put it down, Ali, put it down!” I was oblivious, saying, “why? Why?” Chris Stollery leant over and asked, “Are you up for Best Actress?” “No. I’m not up for best actress” I said. Then started saying the names of who was nominated, and they announced my name. I was holding Christopher Stollery hand saying, “Please don’t let it be me, please don’t let it be me, please don’t let it be me” – and it was me. And I had to get up speak. No one knew I was nominated, well, no one of any significance i.e. my husband, my mother, my father. No one watched it! I think my husband was cleaning the lines at the pub, and I think my mother was watching a different channel. Once I got it, Tiriel Mora racked off with it and I didn’t see it again for three or four days – finally he turned up with it! That was the first time, and other times when you know you’re nominated it’s not nearly as fun because you’re just nervous and it’s silly. I wasn’t there for the Helpmann, I was on stage in Melbourne, so I wasn’t present for it. As soon as I knew I won it I got off stage at interval and got about 50 million text. I thought; “that’s nice I better continue on with working”. With awards it’s great fun but those nights shouldn’t be taken too seriously; it’s great when you get acknowledged for what you do but it’s not the be-all and end-all obviously."
Whyte admits that being the youngest of a family of four does make you crave attention, and attributes some of that need into her ultimate career choice. "I think that just by the nature of my position in the family I had to start stealing thunder," she says. " But then I was exposed to fantastic drama teaching in a school I went to in Hobart, by a really inspirational woman, called Deirdre De Blass, who injected a real passion for the various different texts that she presented us. I had to play lots of different roles, many of them male, because it was an all-girls school, but regardless of genders she really did fill me with a love of language and a love of wanting to take language off the page and bring it to life. So I accredit my desire to become an actor to my early education and my position in the family."
The Bloody chamber has opened at The Malthouse but there is still time to get along and see this already well lauded production. Says Whyte about what audiences should expect from the show: "Well I know they won’t have a sore bottom as they’re not required to sit too long. I just hope they get a really great telling of a story, everyone love stories from the time they were very, very little and this happens to be a fabulous one. All the things I talk about, the meaning of the play, the purpose of the play, the significance of the play, maybe they will have repercussions for the audience, I don’t know, that’s for them to decide. They’re going to get a really great retelling of the The Bloody Chamber, a really great treatment, and I think it’s going to be really comprehensive."
The Bloody Chamber plays till August 10 at the Malthouse.