Bell Shakespeare returns to the region this October, with the 350 year old tale School for Wives. Newcomer to the stage Harriet Dyer tells us about the play and how she is settling into the lead role.
Tell us a little bit about where your love for theatre began?
I grew up in Townsville, a small city in north Queensland. My dad did a lot of musicals when I was little. He was part of the Theatre Group and would do a lot of plays and musicals as a hobby that he really enjoyed. I would see him go off to rehearsals, and he was always very happy doing it.
Then the opportunity to audition for Annie came up, so Dad sat me and my sister down and said, “Don’t expect anything; there are a lot of little girls in this town” (laughs) … as lovely dads do! But then my sister got the main role, Annie, and I got the little friend, Molly. So there was something there straight away that made us think that maybe we could do it – that maybe with our parents being quite theatrical people, it had given the lead in we needed to give it a crack.
I was doing lots of musicals every year when I was little, then plays as well and then dancing concerts.
And then when I was older, the plays’ subject matter got more serious; although in high school, it was just what I was best at, and I had a natural love for it. I think in this world you have got to stick to what you’re best at, or what you like!
How did you become involved with Bell Shakespeare?
I auditioned! The associate artistic director of Bell Shakespeare is a man named Peter Evens. He had directed a show at The Sydney Theatre Company that I was in at the start of the year, and they were having a lot of trouble casting this role, and I think he may have hold Lee [Lewis], the director of The School for Wives, to have a look at me.
I am not sure to what extent I was thrust into her lap or anything, but I feel like that was a small connection made there through Peter. Then I just auditioned, was down to the bottom three, and then I got a call back and got the job about an hour later!
As this your first lead role as a professional actress, how are you enjoying it?
I am, I’m enjoying it a lot. With doing the performances around the regional centres first, you can almost relax, because you know that regional audiences will just love it! If you give them everything, they will love it! There is something about performing in Sydney or Melbourne, which we haven’t done yet but we are coming up to, where there is more of a judgement.
You will find that there are a lot of casting directors in the audience or other actors in the audience who think that they could have done it better. That’s the nature of the beast; any play that you do in a capital city, it’s going to be 50% punters and 50% people in the business, and that changes your relationship to wanting to go on stage or not that night. In the regional centres, it’s 100% punters, and they just love it, so it’s been a total joy to get out and do it every night.
Give us an overview of the play and about Agnes, your character in The School For Wives?
It was written about 350 years ago. It’s and old French comedy by Molière about Arnold, a 40 something year old guy who’s been obsessed with finding himself the perfect bride. He has this huge obsession about women cheating that he just can’t shake; he is completely scared of a woman cheating on him and him losing all of his pride and all of his love.
He finds this four year old girl who has no parents – a very pretty little girl, and he essentially buys her and puts her in a convent for 14 years. She is kept innocent from all reality and not taught anything about sex or adultery. So when she is 18, he pulls her out of the convent and thinks she will be the most angelic, faithful human money can buy. However, if you’re not taught something, then you don’t know it’s wrong … and you will probably do it, because you won’t know it is wrong!
I believe there is a fair amount of rhyming; is this difficult to deliver on stage?
I was a little bit sceptical about doing a rhyming play. For a few weeks it was like waking up with a song in my head that I couldn’t get out! But that’s gone! It’s kind of no different. If anything, it’s slightly more of a challenge to not make it sound like you know what you’re going to say …
Is there anything else you would like to tell Port Macquarie about the show?
It’s definitely a show for young and old! I have heard nothing but complete love for it! It’s very funny! Anyone in the region who comes along, I just want to give them permission to laugh from the very start, because it’s funny from the very start. People think they have to be serious because they are at a Bell Shakespeare show; but that’s silly – people should come and just have a really good time.
This story was published in issue 83 Port Macquarie