One of Australia’s favourite writers, Debra Oswald, (film, television, stage, radio and children’s fiction) will take to the stage in a totally honest exploration of the ups, downs and in-betweens of being a writer and how to navigate things post the success of Offspring (for which she was head writer) in her new one woman show, Is There Something Wrong With That Lady?
A very personal work for Oswald, she explains that the inspiration for it came about through a surprising discovery into self.
“I was a regular and enthusiastic audience member for ‘Story Club’ – the live storytelling shows which used to be held at the Giant Dwarf venue. When I was invited to be one of the storytellers myself, I was nervous about doing it, on the verge of passing out from panic, until the moment I stumbled onto the stage. I discovered that the direct connection with an audience was satisfying, exhilarating. Like rocket fuel.
After that, I mulled on the idea that an audience might be interested in hearing some of my tales, laughing at my foolishness and getting a glimpse into the reality of being a writer in Australia for more than forty years. Maybe it could be a sort of show…”
Oswald first pitched the notion of the show to Lee Lewis, then the Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre, in 2019 – the rest, as they say, is history.
“Lee was supportive from the start and helped me shape the material into a piece that might work on stage.
The show was meant to be part of the 2020 Griffin season but cancelled at the last minute, thanks to Covid. A year later, the virus left us a little window of time, and I was able to do a two-week season at the Griffin. Very lucky.
Now I have the great good fortune of bringing my stories to an audience again with a 4-week run at the Ensemble.”
Oswald says she is always fiddling with the text of her work, trying to get the wording and timing as sharp as she can. She is terrified of boring anybody and sometimes other people have to restrain her from cutting too brutally. “I hope we’ve got the balance about right.”
And as far as where the actor starts and the writer stops:
“Debra the Writer can’t expect Debra the Performer to have the skills that develop with decades of stage experience, but then again, I’m not pretending to be a great actor,” says Oswald. “I’m offering myself to the audience as a storyteller, honest, passionate and as entertaining as I can possibly be.”
A one-person show can be daunting for the best of them and this is no different for Oswald who says the first time she stood backstage, bouncing on her toes, listening to the intro music and the burble of the waiting audience, she felt nauseous with anxiety.
“I’d be all alone out there on the stage. Why had I volunteered to do this ridiculous project? I had no one but myself to blame. But I had to go ahead because people had bought tickets. I stepped out on stage and launched into it. Instantly, I felt the energy radiating back at me from the audience. Hearing people laugh, gasp, sigh with pity (I’m not too proud to take their pity!) – well, it was energising and intoxicating.”
Oswald, a multi award winning writer, loves work that offers a mix of comic and serious, stories that are honest about pain and remind us what’s precious. “I try very hard to use the power of narrative to pull an audience or reader into a world, into moments of unexpected intimacy with my characters,” she says. “There are certain long-standing obsessions in my writing – shame, forgiveness, disarming acts of tenderness, the way parents can fail their children and how people might nurture each other in surrogate parent/child relationships.” Oswald is not interested in writing about monsters. She wants to write about characters who are like most of us: flawed, insecure people, trying to do our best, but often hurting each other as we flail about in confusion, and sometimes finding our way to loving connection.
And in regards to her current project, Oswald says it’s been great fun to work again with Lee Lewis, who is now Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company and has kindly come to help her get the show on its feet at the Ensemble.
“What a joy to be around Lee’s sharp brain and expansive spirit,” she says. “It’s also been fun to have a young stage manager and an even younger uni student observer in the room. It’s fascinating to see which aspects of my stories (me being an old dame) connect with these smart young women and to hear their take on things.”
In Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? audiences can expect to see one woman offer up stories – candid, funny and excruciating tales from her life as junior hypochondriac, a desperate virgin and a dogged writer of theatre and TV in a country like Australia.
“I’ll be asking people to consider questions I ask myself repeatedly – What drives a person to try to create something in the first place? Is it fear of death? Is it the hope of getting more sexual offers? Is it motivated by a bottomless pit of shame? And now that I’m a bruised old dame, who’s been writing for four decades, should I keep battling on? I’m hoping the Ensemble audience will help me answer those questions.
I can promise at least two of the photographs I’ll show will elicit gasps from the audience and I very much hope we will share some laughs.”
Debra needs to move on… can the audience help her to decide what to do next? Debra Oswald and director Lee Lewis reunite for this infectiously funny, deeply personal and totally honest exploration of the ups, downs and in-betweens of being a writer.
September 18 – October 14