Theatre Works is in the habit of supporting new Australian works with The Mentor, by playwright Joshua White, being no exception. A tour de force two-hander, The Mentor is White’s first page to stage production. An exciting work shaped by many creative hands and minds, actor Amanda Muggleton has been involved in development since 2020. In fact, both Muggleton and actor Connor Morel (The Wedding Singer, Rent), have helped shape the characters they play.
An empowering plot focusing on sexism and ageism, Muggleton loves the fact that she’s been with it right from the start. “It’s so exciting being on the ground floor of a new script being developed, ” she says. “It deals with ageism and sexism, and it’s to do with the skill and art of acting. Most actors my age have experienced these things. I think the public may enjoy being a fly on the wall for some of the discussions we have in the play.”
Muggleton acknowledges that any new work is constantly evolving and developing. “We’re still finding new things all the time,” she says. ” When COVID first hit, it completely stopped all our work. There was nothing for any of us in the arts to do. A new platform was formed, Hope New Works, which our director Christian Cavallo and my friend James Millar began. The platform started developing new plays and musicals, and I was just lucky my friend James asked me to help develop the work over Zoom.
That first Zoom, we were all in isolation, and it was a very lonely time, but it was so wonderful to connect with other artists and have a project to keep us all going.”
Launched during the COVID lockdowns, Hope New Works is the initiative that first facilitated creative development for The Mentor. Co-founded by Bravo Arts’ Artistic Director Christian Cavallo, it also facilitated nine other developments in 2020 . The Hope New Works initiative won two Green Room Awards – Contribution to Development/New Work and Community Building and Advocacy. The Mentor will be the first play to be staged from that launch pad, in Australia. Bravo Arts is a Geelong based company, working to represent and create opportunities for regional arts and artists to thrive.
Muggleton plays Amanda Redfern, a one-time Hollywood Star whose life is now spiralling in her in later years. Muggleton describes her as flamboyant and eccentric, gutsy and provocative. “I think I’m still finding her at this point in rehearsal, but underneath her confident appearance is someone still working through her pain, says Muggleton. When she begins tutoring twenty-something actor Jordan, the two unearth a vastly different set of perceptions on sexism, ageism, and respect while also discovering that their methodologies as actors are fuelled by incredibly different lived experiences.
“We explore the difference between the generations and how mental health can affect different people in our industry,” Muggleton explains. “We also look at the foibles of America and how show business compares between Australia and Hollywood.
We also examine relationships with family, particularly parents and children, and also actors honing their craft. I am a mentor after all!
Josh has created such a beautiful story for us to tell. He has built such a fascinating world for the characters to exist in. He has a poetic quality, and a lot of what he’s written is no doubt inspired by own experiences in the industry.”
Interestingly, a hit film of the year has been Good Luck to you, Leo Grande starring an older Emma Thompson alongside a younger Daryl McCormack. “Emma Thompson was exquisite in that,” says Muggleton. With a 70-year-old female in the position of authority, The Mentor is a unique piece of theatre. Paralleling Good Luck to you, Leo Grande, White’s play kicks ageism to the kerb – something Muggleton celebrates and would like to see more of on a local level.
“In Europe, they value older voices, older actors, so much more than we do here,’ she says. “In Australia, there’s not enough work for older actors. Even for me. It’s been such a joy to have this play feature someone quite young opposite someone mature. Australia is still having an affair with youth. But I say, keep making stories for older, wiser voices!”
A two-hander can be thrilling for some but daunting for others. Muggleton enjoys the intimacy it brings explaining that she and Morel met through development earlier this year. “It’s been so wonderful to have someone to work with and share the discovery process with,” she says.
The last few years have seen Muggleton working on one-woman shows so, she says, it’s so lovely to be able to look another actor in the eyes and play opposite them. “He’s a wonderful young actor and we are a rock for each other in this play. I love his timing and comedy skills, and great confidence in rehearsal.”
Muggleton’s illustrious career has seen her work for every major theatre company in Australia and for most of the commercial producers. Her career spans forty years in TV, film, theatre (drama, comedy and musical theatre) As an actor, she likes to make people laugh and cry. “I like to move people and make them think about the world we live in,” she says. As for a role she still hasn’t tackled. “I’d love to do Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It’s come into my sphere three times, and each time it didn’t go ahead.”
Driven by a mature female voice juxtaposed against an idealistic male perspective, The Mentor is an engaging and powerful new work that explores the complex ebbs and flows of the human experience. Says Muggleton, ” It’ll be an entertaining night in the theatre full of surprises and revelations!”
November 16 – 26