Misery adapted for stage by Simon Moore from the acclaimed novelist Stephen King is a decent into the darkness and the torment of obsession … where you can expect the unexpected, and be kept on the edge of your seat.  It is a compellingly cruel thriller proudly presented as a SA premiere by The Bakehouse Theatre Company in Adelaide playing July 21 to August 6.

As a special deal for Theatre People, the Bakehouse Theatre Company is offering a special introductory offer to the previews for $5.00 if you book through their website www.bakehousetheatre.com. 

Theatre People recently spoke with Joanne Hartstone, who plays the demented Annie, about her theatrical background and what it is like to take on such a role.

Tell us about your theatrical background?  

I graduated from the Flinders University Drama Centre in 2005. Since then, I have performed in the Adelaide and Melbourne Fringes with various shows, and have toured the UK with David Mamet's "Oleanna", playing the role of Carol – for which I was nominated Emerging Artist of the Year by the Adelaide Critic's Circle. I worked in the UK as the General Manager and Assistant Producer of Theatre Tours International (a London based touring company, which won an Olivier Award in 2009) and am currently the Producer of the Centre for International Theatre (CIT) in Adelaide. I am now settled back in Adelaide, and am working with many local companies on their shows, both as an Actor and Producer.

How long have you been associated with The Bakehouse Theatre Company?

I have performed in the Bakehouse since returning from the UK in a show called "Molly's Shoes", which was produced by Accidental Productions. I was asked to play the role of "Annie Wilkes" during this season, and have rehearsed and performed at the Bakehouse for the past two months. I have grown very fond of the venue! And working with Peter Green has been such a delight. The Bakehouse Theatre Company has accrued a wonderful creative team for Misery, and the result is inspiring for me. Being supported by professionals means my job is much easier and I can experiment knowing I have the backing of a truly great team.

Have you seen the movie Misery?

Yes, I have seen the movie Misery. When the director, Michael Allen, first gave me the script, I had only ever heard about bits of it, without knowing details. Misery is one of those stories that is part of our cult literature canon. Everyone has either heard about it, or seen it, or knows about certain parts (ie. the hobbling scene). Because Misery is so well known, and Kathy Bates is renowned for her role, I knew I couldn't play the part without considering what has come before. So, both John Maurice (who plays the writer Paul Sheldon) and I read the novel and watched the film so we could reflect on the plot in these different mediums and contemplate what our audiences will be expecting.

For people who have seen the movie, what can they expect from the stage adaptation?

For those who have seen the film, they will be very aware of my character "Annie" and all the actions she takes to get what she wants. Our play is based on the novel, rather than the film, and in some respects sticks closer to the original than the film does. An obvious example of this is the famous "hobbling" scene. In the book and in our play Annie truly hobbles Paul, but in the film CGI special effects did not allow this – so Kathy Bates only breaks James Caan's feet.

This being said, however, this is Misery on a stage. The audience are in the same room as Annie, they can see the fear in Paul's eyes, and they will have an experience which will not quickly be forgotten.

With a stage adaptation, many directors steer their actors away from looking at the movie.  Was that the case with Misery?  Why do you think this is?

I can understand why many directors and actors do not want to see film adaptations, as most want to find their style and interpretation, rather than being influenced by previous performances and ideas. However, as mentioned before, Misery is part our collective culture and so many people will approach this with bias and expectation. I felt it was important to acknowledge this cult fascination and not ignore Kathy Bates' Oscar winning performance.

You're stepping into the iconic role automatically associated with Kathy Bates.  What extra pressures does this place on you as an actor?

It is certainly a challenge to play an iconic role. Whilst there is no denying Kathy Bates' powerful performance as Annie Wilkes, I also understand that I am not Kathy Bates and should not try to be her. My "Annie" is built from inside me, rather than from what I have seen. And although audiences will have expectations about Annie Wilkes, the actions and words are alike to what they know, with some new information thrown in for good measure. My job is to make the audiences forget the past and be absorbed in the present. Certainly the fame of Kathy Bates' performance will make this slightly harder, but no harder than an actor playing Juliet, or Lear. The role changes with the actor and the actor owns their interpretation of the character.

How would you describe your character of Annie?

From a psychological diagnosis point of view, Annie is a psychopath. Because of her violent and murderous tendencies, she goes beyond the socially accepted mental disorders and is classed as "psychotic". However, her other personality traits also class her as a borderline personality disorder. Annie is a god-fearing woman, who has lived through many personal tragedies (some self-induced, some imposed upon her). Annie has a very strict ethical code and lives by "right" and "wrong" – even though her black and whites are socially skewed. Annie's facade is socially acceptable, but inside a dragon lurks.

During the rehearsal process, was there a wig, shoes, costume or prop that helped you "find" Annie? 

No, I worked completely from the inside out.

It's got to be a really good show to get people out of their warm homes this winter?  Why should people come and see Misery?  What can they expect?

People will come to see Misery with all kinds of expectations. Many will come to experience the "ghost-train" scare of Annie Wilkes, many will come because they are fans of Stephen King, many will come because they love good theatre. But mostly people should come for the entertainment. This is not "art", this is about giving people what they want – a great night out, with laughs and adrenalin, and enough conversation starters for anyone who survives.

Joanne transorms into Annie

Misery is directed by Michael Allen and features Joanne Hartstone and John Maurice.

Set and costume design by Tammy Boden.

Lighting and sound design by Ben Flett

Produced by Peter Green