"I can't remember a time when I didn't want to pursue this as a career," says Green Room Award winner and star of stage and screen, Robyn Arthur.
Arthur has been in the industry for close to 40 years now and admits there's hardly anything she's not done. Arthur has played ‘Mrs Potts’ in the stage production of Beauty and the Beast with Hugh Jackman; appeared in the original and most recent productions of The Boy from Oz; and starred in the original Australian cast of Les Miserables as ‘Madame Thenardier’ for which she won a Green Room Award. There was also Menopause the Musical', 'Minefields and Miniskirts' (National Tour), 'OzMade Musicals 2004', 'Sweeney Todd', 'Sideshow Alley', ‘Putting it Together’ (Australian Premiere), 'Bye Bye Birdie', 'Side By Side By Sondheim', 'Into the Woods', 'Company', 'The Villain of Flowers', 'Nunsense', 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying', 'Jesus Christ Superstar', 'Evita'.
She has appeared on television in Sons and Daughters, Mother and Son, Blue Heelers, MDA, Neighbours, Kath and Kim, City Homicide and most recently, the ABC’s Woodley, Laid and The Librarians.
Arthur's familial love of music can be traced to her paternal grandmother who, she shares with me, was very musical and played piano for senior citizens clubs all over Sydney. "I went with her before I started pre-school – every day – hearing that marvellous music.," says Arthur. "And then later it was the movie musicals i.e. Oklahoma, South Pacific and earlier, Easter Parade and all the Garland films."
Arthur's love affair with the industry has not diminished with time, in fact she sees herself as fortunate to still be working after all these decades and cites the reason for her "longevity" as her ability to diversify – "I do a lot and I keep adding to my skills," she says. It seems a Sophie's Choice for Arthur when asked which creative medium she prefers: "Overall nothing beats a live audience – I love the challenge of the studio though – film and television and it all boils down to the script, the director and the team you're working with. I've had some wonderful times working on TV productions like "Woodley" and "Laid" and that's because of the writing and the creatives."
In a career spanning almost four decades I would have expected Arthur to recall many favourites and I was not disappointed. "Les Miserables as Madame Thenardier (original Australian cast) directed in Australia by the legendary Trevor Nunn with Gale Edwards; Sideshow Alley as Bev McKenzie (the Australian Helpman award winning musical by Gary Young and Paul Keelan and more recently revisiting The Boy from Oz with Todd McKenny and of course this current play It's My Party….playing Dawn Patterson."
"They're all challenging for different reasons but physically it certainly was playing Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast – we were all playing inanimate objects (I was the Teapot of course with a steaming arm in a restrictive costume), Bert Newton was the Clock in an incredibly heavy and ornate costume, the list goes on. But it was a total joy to sing the title song each night. And of course have Hugh Jackman make me cups of tea at interval (Hugh played Gaston)."
Arthur was offered the role of Dawn Patterson in It's My Party some time ago, and, she tells me, was enticed by two things: the fact that it is an Australian play by a great writer – Elizabeth Coleman (Secret Bridesmaid's Business). and wanting to work with director Denis Moore whose work she had seen in the past and confesses it was a delight to work with him
It's My party has been touring since late February and is set to entertain Melbourne audiences this week. Arthur tells me there are challenges daily on a tour this long. "I'm writing this from Darwin and this is about our 35th venue i.e. city/town," she says. " We do our own driving, we fly longer distances of course, but you travel, live and work together. We don't just do the show, we also visit schools and give Arts Talks and in Queensland we also visited nursing homes and retirement villages and gave talks on the show and really the nuts and bolts of being an actor and our careers. Some interesting Q and A's – especially from the primary school kids and we're attended many "Meet and Greets" after each performance where we chat to the audiences."
The cast have now performed the play almost 80 times. Arthur still feels honoured to hear the laughter each night – audiences leave having had a ball. Audiences can relate to the characters feels Arthur – it's an Australian family – somewhat dysfunctional to say the least, but aren't they all? A great Australian comedy, beautifully crafted.
"It's an hilarious look at family life – there's something for everyone, really and this is a wonderful and talented cast," says Arthur. " I'm especially impressed with the younger members of the cast – Freya Pragt, Matt Furlani, Sharon Davis and Trent Baker (all VCA Alumni) it's been a total joy to play the play with them all. And there's an old bloke called Henri who's not half bad too."
The Athenaeum Theatre welcomes Robyn Arthur, Henri Szeps and the cast of It's My Party (and I'll die if I want to) July 5 and 6.
Other Victorian tour dates can be found here: http://hitproductions.com.au/ItsMyParty2013.htm