Caitlin Burley Gears up for The Great Divide

by | Mar 1, 2024

David Williamson’s The Great Divide is set to open at Ensemble Theatre later this month. Penned by Australia’s most prolific playwright, The Great Divide unfolds in the picturesque town of Wallis Heads, not unlike Williamson’s current hometown Noosa in Queensland.

In fact, for actor  Caitlin Burley, the desire to be involved in the project is marked by Williamson’s impressive status.  “I’ve grown up reading, watching, and studying his works, and it’s a real honour to bring his latest work to life at this theatre I’ve visited so many times! It’s also a chance to work with a dynamite cast.”

Burley explains that when she first got the audition and read the play, she was immediately drawn to the location and the characters.  “My character, Rachel is a surfer and although I don’t surf I love ocean swimming and grew up around surf obsessed brothers so it feels great to have a chance to channel their passion into her journey.”

Burley plays Rachel Poulter, who plans to be a world champion surfer. The only things standing in her way are completing her final year of high school and her mother’s wish for her to have a university degree so she can have a ‘stable career’, and money. Burley says she admires her fortitude and grit.

“She’s at that tricky age where she feels ready to be an adult and her own person but is still at school having to do things she has no interest in.  She’s courageous and fights for what she wants, even when it is uncomfortable. When her mum decides to snap the town out of complacency she’s forced to learn about the ways of the world, who she can trust and what her value system will be.”

Burley says the play is incredibly relatable because, as a playwright, Williamson is brilliant at tapping into the pulse of now and looking at the big issues that we are facing. It looks at life in Australia today, the increasing wealth divide, the cost of living and the rental crisis and the value of following your dreams and what you believe in. It also looks at the divide between those who favour greed, money, and prestige and those who put value on other things in life such as family and community, and whether or not you can have both?

Burley believes there are challenges to every project, that’s part of the process and part of what makes it exciting and interesting. Nonetheless, she loves getting to explore all the possibilities of a script in rehearsals. “The challenge can be in deciding what choice to put in front of an audience – but luckily with theatre – you can change it whenever you like!”

As an actor, Burley loves playing interesting complex characters that aren’t perfect, and she loves being involved in telling stories we haven’t heard before or from a different perspective. Theatre will always have a special place in her heart. “There is something incredible about a group of strangers sitting in a room and watching make-believe,” she says, “It’s a strange communal dream we all buy into for a designated amount of time before we go back to ‘the real world’. I think it’s really special. I know we aren’t out there doing brain surgery, but I do believe that theatre has the power to change people’s lives and society.”

Burley posits there’s a definite push and pull between actor and audience, even in more naturalistic plays. “It’s not TV, we hear everything and I love that, it’s exciting and helps keep everything fresh and alive in the moment,” she says. “The audience brings a different energy every night and will react differently depending on their own personal experiences.”

This is Williamson’s wise cracking commentary on wealth inequality and human greed, Says Burley, “New Australian Theatre that packs a punch! There are lots of laughs, it finishes on a good note, and it will give you something to think about and discuss long after the show.”

March 8 – April 24

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