ROSE­MARY NEILL meets TAM­SIN CAR­ROLL Ac­tor, Dusty diva

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

HE whore, the hussy, the nun and the bi­sex­ual pop diva. If noth­ing else, the tra­jec­tory of Tam­sin Car­roll’s ca­reer has con­firmed her ex­tra­or­di­nary ver­sa­til­ity. Says the theatre per­former with a cool poise that soon thaws into warm hu­mour: ‘‘ I don’t ever want to be type­cast.’’

There is lit­tle dan­ger of that. In 2003, Car­roll scored Help­mann, Mo and Green Room awards for her por­trayal of the tragic yet good- hearted pros­ti­tute Nancy in the mu­si­cal Oliver!. She has also played Rizzo, the to­ken 1950s- style slut in Grease , and Isabella, the in­sis­tently chaste nun from Shake­speare’s Mea­sure for Mea­sure.

Now 28, Car­roll is prob­a­bly best known for her panda- eyed, bee­hived turn last year as Dusty Spring­field in the home- grown juke­box mu­si­cal Dusty: The Orig­i­nal Pop Diva . Flash­ing a win­ning smile, the Syd­ney- based ac­tor says: ‘‘ It’s al­ways a chal­lenge when you’re play­ing some­one who ex­isted. The fans want you to get it right and if you don’t you’ll be lynched.’’

It seems Car­roll, a self- taught singer and ac­tor, didn’t set a plat­form shoe wrong as Dusty. The crit­ics weren’t keen on the mu­si­cal’s book or cliched camp­ness ( one scene de­picted Spring­field in a les­bian orgy). But there was unan­i­mous praise for Car­roll, who won an­other Help­mann for a per­for­mance that tracked Spring­field’s tu­mul­tuous ca­reer from her teens to her 50s.

For ev­ery per­for­mance, Car­roll en­dured 33 cos­tume and 14 wig changes.

‘‘ It was just pan­de­mo­nium back­stage,’’ she laughs, adding that the chaos — in­volv­ing sep­a­rate cos­tume and wig dressers and lots of Vel­cro — was well chore­ographed.

Car­roll will soon slip into an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal reg­is­ter when she takes on a key role in a re­vival of the ground­break­ing Stephen Sond­heim mu­si­cal Com­pany.

In this pro­duc­tion, which opens in Syd­ney in July, she will play a hip Man­hat­tan­ite with a com­mit­ment- shy boyfriend. ( The show will be di­rected by Gale Ed­wards, who has di­rected mu­si­cals through­out Aus­tralia and on the West End and Broad­way.)

Car­roll’s char­ac­ter, Marta, is one of three girl­friends be­ing strung along by the charm­ing

Tanti- hero Bobby ( it ex­plains a lot that Com­pany was first staged in 1970). Car­roll agrees Marta is a ca­su­alty of Bobby’s re­la­tion­ship pho­bia, ‘‘ but she wouldn’t let him know that. She’s out there. She’s a bit of a free spirit and a bit wacky. She’s quite ex­pres­sive and tak­ing New York to its fullest lim­its.’’

Com­pany, which won six Tony awards in its first Broad­way out­ing, has been de­scribed as one of the first con­cept mu­si­cals: the love af­fairs it por­trays are re­vealed through non- lin­ear vi­gnettes. By turns ir­rev­er­ent and melan­choly, this med­i­ta­tion on the na­ture of com­mit­ment, love and mar­riage es­chews the up- beat end­ing that char­ac­terises more con­ven­tional mu­si­cals. Re­view­ing a Broad­way re­vival last De­cem­ber, New Yorker critic John Lahr con­cluded that Com­pany was ‘‘ full of lu­cid doubt’’ and ‘‘ opened up a whole Pan­dora’s box of am­biva­lence’’.

Over a cof­fee — Car­roll for­goes hers be­cause she al­ready has reached her daily caf­feine quota — the ac­tor says the mu­si­cal looks at the ‘‘ beau­ti­ful and the good and the bad in re­la­tion­ships. Even if some­one is bor­ing you to tears, there is still that beauty in need­ing to care and be cared for, and hav­ing that per­ma­nence in our lives.’’

Com­pany is one of the first Sond­heim works in which the lyrics com­ment on the char­ac­ters rather than sim­ply ad­vanc­ing the story. Car­roll says this makes the songs ‘‘ great act­ing pieces for singers and, tech­ni­cally, some of the harder stuff you’ll come across’’.

Com­pany is be­ing staged by Peter Cousens’s Kook­aburra com­pany, ded­i­cated to re­viv­ing the lo­cal mu­si­cals scene, which was flag­ging un­til re­cently. Asked if she has weath­ered lean times in the theatre busi­ness, Car­roll replies: ‘‘ Oh ab­so­lutely! In the year be­fore Dusty , I was in a black hole a bit. Wait­ress­ing and ush­er­ing.’’ The ‘‘ scary times’’ were those when months would slide by with­out a sin­gle au­di­tion.

How­ever, she takes heart that Dusty toured na­tion­ally to packed houses. With sud­den fe­roc­ity, Car­roll says this ‘‘ mas­sive box- of­fice suc­cess’’ makes liars of those who in­sist ‘‘ there is not much of a place for the arts in our cul­ture any more. That is ab­so­lute bol­locks. Peo­ple would come to see it six, seven times.’’

She be­lieves the de­nuded theatre in­dus­try is start­ing to throw out new shoots as writ­ers, direc­tors and ac­tors in­creas­ingly pro­duce their own work. ‘‘ I don’t think you can si­lence the theatre in­dus­try, no mat­ter how much gov­ern­ments try through lack of fund­ing,’’ she says.

With her fight­ing spirit and tal­ent, it’s un­sur­pris­ing to learn she is the daugh­ter of vet­eran ac­tor Peter Car­roll. She gave her first pro­fes­sional stage per­for­mance at seven in a Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany pro­duc­tion of Luigi Pi­ran­dello’s Six Char­ac­ters in Search of an Au­thor.

‘‘ I sort of grew up in the dress­ing- room, watch­ing,’’ she says. How­ever, her par­ents were wary of turn­ing her into a child ac­tor. ‘‘ I sensed it was what I wanted to do as an adult, so there was no rush.’’

Asked to name her favourite ac­tor, she won­ders aloud whether it’s too cheesy to nom­i­nate her dad. ‘‘ I’ll get a bot­tle of wine out of this,’’ she jokes.

While she feels lucky to have landed big roles in a string of mu­si­cals, she says earnestly that ‘‘ I con­sider my­self an ac­tor first’’. She says play­ing Isabella for the Bell Shake­speare Com­pany in 2005 was her ca­reer high­light: ‘‘ It was a case of hav­ing a dream to do some­thing and end­ing up do­ing it.’’

Al­though she didn’t train for­mally as a singer or ac­tor, she ad­mits that belt­ing out a pa­rade of ’ 60s hits in Dusty for 10 months taught her that singing ‘‘ is the kind of skill that needs [ pro­fes­sional] main­te­nance’’.

Late last year she went over­seas to travel and try her luck in Lon­don be­fore she turns 30 and is un­able to work un­der Bri­tish visa rules. She quickly re­alised the qual­ity of life in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal can be grim un­less you have buck­ets of money. Far from home, ‘‘ I saw the great things about Aus­tralia, as you some­times do when you are trav­el­ling’’.

She con­fesses, a lit­tle sheep­ishly, that she re­turned sooner than she had in­tended. Still, de­spite the scarcity of do­mes­tic theatre roles, she soon found her­self at home, back in the re­hearsal room. Com­pany opens at Syd­ney’s Theatre Royal on July 5.

Pic­ture: Bob Fin­layson

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