FIND­ING KATE

Play­wright and ac­tress Kate Mul­vany is bring­ing to the stage her most per­sonal work, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - COVER STORY -

OTWENTY-FIVE years ear­lier Mul­vany had lain in a Perth hos­pi­tal, desperately sick with a rare child­hood can­cer that left her with an un­cer­tain fu­ture. When her English god­mother Tessa gave her a gift, the best­selling chil­dren’s book Mas­quer­ade, she says she found rea­son to hope. She would carry it with her through­out what she refers to as “my rather roller-coaster ride of a life” as a tal­is­man of courage and com­fort. The book was also the rea­son she be­came a writer.

Mas­quer­ade’s Bri­tish au­thor was Kit Wil­liams, an ec­cen­tric, age­less artist with a bushy beard, eyes that wan­dered in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, tat­toos he had inked him­self dur­ing his years in the mer­chant navy. His book’s ex­tra­or­di­nary in­ter­na­tional suc­cess had driven him to be­come a recluse, but now, wait­ing for her to alight, the wizard-like man in cor­duroy pants was about to wel­come Mul­vany into his life, invit­ing her to share her story and his role in it.

It’s a story that will, with Mul­vany’s hand, form the cen­tre­piece of the Syd­ney Fes­ti­val in Jan­uary in a stage adap­ta­tion for Grif­fin

Septem­ber 27-28, 2014 N a sti­flingly hot English sum­mer day, play­wright and ac­tress Kate Mul­vany sat ner­vously in the car­riage of her train as it ap­proached the tiny sta­tion of Stroud, in Glouces­ter­shire. As the train pulled in, she had an over­whelm­ing sense her whole life had led to this mo­ment. Wait­ing for her on the plat­form was a stranger who more than two decades ago had ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed her life. The­atre Company and the State The­atre Company of South Aus­tralia. Her Mas­quer­ade is about to come full cir­cle.

Born in the West Aus­tralian cray­fish­ing town of Ger­ald­ton, Mul­vany was only three years old when she was di­ag­nosed with Wilms’ tu­mour, a can­cer of the kid­neys. It was a bit­ter blow for her par­ents, who learned that the can­cer was a re­sult of her fa­ther’s ex­po­sure to Agent Orange when he was con­scripted to fight in the Viet­nam War. The young Kate spent seven years traips­ing be­tween hos­pi­tals in Ger­ald­ton and Perth, en­dur­ing rounds of chemo­ther­apy, ra­dio­ther­apy and the in­evitable bro­ken bones that were an un­for­tu­nate byprod­uct of the chem­i­cals’ po­tency.

Vis­its from her beloved god­mother were wel­come, and the pair would spend hours to­gether as Tessa read. Mul­vany dis­tinctly re­mem­bers the day Tessa brought in Mas­quer­ade. The young Mul­vany had fin­ished her lat­est round of treat­ment and was in trac­tion with a bro­ken arm. “I was so scared of hos­pi­tals by that stage. Any nurses or doc­tors who came near me, I was ter­ri­fied. I still am, to some ex­tent,” Mul­vany muses. But as she lay lis­ten­ing to that book, some­thing hap­pened. The pain and sick­ness and nee­dles and med­i­ca­tion faded away, and in their place ap­peared Jack Hare, the bum­bling rab­bit tasked by his mis­tress the Moon to de­liver a let­ter of love to her paramour, the Sun. Along the way the hare and his fel­low mes­sen­ger, the wise frog, en­counter a host of weird and won­der­ful char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing the Penny- Pock­ets Lady and the man who plays the mu­sic that makes the world go round.

Along with Wil­liams’s ex­quis­ite, fan­tas­ti­cal il­lus­tra­tions were rid­dles and other hid­den gems, all wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered by ea­ger young eyes.

Bet­ter still, Wil­liams had cre­ated a bril­liant 18-carat gold rab­bit amulet, com­plete with ru­bies, moon­stone, citrines, turquoise and mother of pearl. He had hid­den it some­where in Bri­tain and in­formed his read­ers the clues to find­ing it lay within the pages of the book. A small revo­lu­tion was sweep­ing Bri­tain as Mas­quer­ade fans dug up fields, parks and river­banks, des­per­ate to find the jewelled rab­bit. The book would go on to sell more than two mil­lion copies, and the amulet was ul­ti­mately un­earthed. But none of that mat­tered to Mul­vany.

“Mas­quer­ade is about sci­ence, the ce­les­tial world, math­e­mat­ics and imag­i­na­tion,” she says. “It cov­ered ev­ery­thing I needed while I was in hos­pi­tal, I got my ed­u­ca­tion from that book. And on ev­ery page there’s a hid­den rab­bit. It’s dif­fi­cult to find them, but once you do the feel­ing of ex­ul­ta­tion and ac­com­plish­ment was some­thing that just ex­ploded my imag­i­na­tion and made those ter­ri­ble times in hos­pi­tal bear­able. For both of us. Tessa suf­fered de­pres­sion. She was bipo­lar and we lost her to that a few years ago. So the book was al­ways a trib­ute to her when­ever I read it. It brought com­fort.

“In all hon­esty, I don’t think my hos­pi­tal ex­pe­ri­ence would have gone so well had I not had that imag­i­na­tive es­cape. When you’re deal­ing

Mas­quer­ade

Kate Mul­vany was in­tro­duced to the book by her god­mother when she was se­ri­ously ill as a child

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