FROM LITTLE THINGS
Miranda Tapsell is moving on up, writes
ASMALL and sickly boy from a Dickens novel may not seem like the role Miranda Tapsell was born to play. But to those who know her, it’s a perfect fit. “Everyone I’ve told that I am playing Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol has burst out laughing, (saying) ‘ Of course you are’,” the 26-year-old actress says.
Evidently, it’s a reflection on the exuberance and enthusiasm the petite Darwin-born actress brings to her work on stage and screen.
The classic redemption tale about the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, directed by AnneLouise Sarks, opens next week at Sydney’s Belvoir theatre.
For Tapsell, the production marks a return to the stage after six years.
Her last theatrical performance — also at Belvoir, and also her first role out of the National Institute of Dramatic Art — was the title role in Yibiyung in 2008, for which this newspaper's John McCallum praised her “boisterous good humour and moments of delight”.
She has since starred in the successful film The Sapphires in 2012, miniseries Mabo, Love Child on the Nine Network, and a short film titled Vote Yes in support of the campaign for constitutional recognition of indigenous people.
But Tapsell, a Larrakia-Tiwi woman who grew up in Kakadu, says the instant audience reaction of live performance — “hearing the laughter, and hearing the cheers at the curtain call” — has always been an inspiration.
“I always loved performing, putting shows on and wearing ridiculous costumes; it was a big part of my childhood,” she says. “I had no brothers or sisters, so they were always one-woman shows.
“They didn’t have traditional narrative structures and maybe went on for longer than they should have, but my parents clapped at the end regardless.”
Still, playing a role usually performed by young caucasian boys, with the well-known line “God bless us, everyone!”, has significance not rather than it being in control of him. After all, he had lived and breathed television for decades and didn’t feel threatened by it. He used cameras, instinctively understanding the way shots were composed, what directors looked for and just where the comic advantage could be gained. He was not a performer — like so many — who simply expected the cameras to follow what went on in front of them. Sometimes he said he was there to make up the picture; at other times he was “the lightening factor”. He was in fine form with Lane and when he looked around at the class of ’57, at those who had started on the box at the same time, few were still in business. “Television found them out,” he said.
Bert claimed that the stability provided by his marriage to Patti had given him a new equilibrium and helped him retain a desire to excel in his work. He had also been strongly affected by the recent death of his sister Alice. She was his greatest fan and they had been close. “After her death, I felt I owed her memory the success she never lived to see me fully realise,” he said. In any case, there was little chance of that as the show found its feet, Bert riffing with Don,
November 1-2, 2014 lost on Tapsell. She says that so-called colour and gender-blind casting is a trend she hopes to see continue, and says she was inspired by the example of British actress Sophie Okonedo, who played Nancy in a BBC TV series of Oliver Twist several years ago.
“I appreciate Anne-Louise being open to it, and I hope more directors move to that way of thinking,” she says.
As soon as A Christmas Carol premieres, Tapsell will start rehearsals during the day for another Belvoir production opening in January next year: Louis Nowra’s Radiance.
Being restaged for the first time in 22 years, that play will also star fellow The Sapphires alumnae Shari Sebbens and Leah Purcell, who is directing. It tells the story of three indigenous sometimes just a little insanely, and a new double act was born.
While Bert quickly realised that the show had come along at the right time for him, when he had, again, been staring into a career abyss, both he and Lane also quickly realised that Bert had come along at the right time for Lane. The Don Lane Show, as it developed in its many incarnations, was really about Bert Newton.
“Don needed Bert because people watched the show to see what Bert would do,” said JohnMichael Howson, who did a celebrity gossip segment. “It was mostly Bert’s show but he was smart enough to play the second banana when he was really the top banana. I think Don knew it, but as long as it was called The Don Lane Show he didn’t care, and the show gave Don an enormous boost on the club circuit with his really entertaining cabaret act.”
Bert was working so well that Nine also gave him another version of New Faces to host, along with a game show called Celebrity Squares, a local version of an American format based on the classic Noughts and Crosses. Inside each box was a celebrity and the host asked them a question. If the contestant could correctly predict whether the celebrity’s answer was right or sisters who gather at the family home in north Queensland for their mother's funeral, after living apart for years.
“It’s about finding your dynamic again as a family when you have been separated for so long,” she says. “I am extremely close to my family so it is really different for me … I feel terrible when I haven’t phoned my mum in two days.”
In May, Tapsell shot the second season of Love Child, in which she plays Martha, and it will air on the Nine Network early next year.
“What has been wonderful about The Sapphires and Love Child for me is that my family up in the Northern Territory are able to experience it as unfortunately they can’t always come down to see the shows I am in.”
Another result of her burgeoning career being recognised in public.
“It’s kind of a new thing, a really wonderful thing, especially the young girls who recognise me,” she says. “Often I will ask them: do you like acting? And if they say ‘yes’, I encourage them — make sure they pursue it, and not to live through me.
“It’s a wonderful and empowering thing as a kid to be told you can go and do what you want.”
Tapsell says she has been completely focused on her craft in recent years, to the exclusion of any other artistic distractions.
is wrong, they won that square and a money value. If they were wrong the opposing contestant won the square and the cash.
And to cap it all off, Bert and Patti announced they were expecting their first child, counting down the days until January 1977. Patti said she had already taken out the knitting needles and that relatives were busy sewing, knitting and crocheting things for the baby. Bert was thrilled too. “I’ve been paying back a lot of my friends who have bored me with details of their kids for years and I’m giving them a pretty good going over,” he said. Patti thought that some of their friends were no longer answering their phones in case it was Bert. “He’s running out of people to ring,” she said.
In 1976, Bert was also back on the wireless, where he began, having accepted a job with Melbourne’s 3UZ. The show ran six days a week from 9am until noon; as a bonus, Patti was to be featured daily in a barrel segment. The job made him the city’s highest-paid radio personality, his agreement worth $50,000 a year. It was a far cry from his first pay packet with 3XY when he was 15.
Bert told the press: “I am not a disc jockey. I’m a communicator in the old sense, with new
“I want to be in this industry as long as I possibly can; it would require something really massive to happen to jolt me out of that,” she says. “Until then, I’m just going to keep giving things a red hot go.”
Tapsell confesses an admiration for American comedians, actresses and writers Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey, and doesn’t rule out aiming for comic roles or even scriptwriting in the future.
She describes herself as “a bit of a dag”, with a reputation among those who know her of exaggerating stories and hamming up situations for comic effect.
“Somehow I have never been known as a funny person, but my character Cynthia in The Sapphires was quite funny and it was the first time many people said wow, you are really funny.”
But with Radiance running until February next year, she has more prosaic and seasonal concerns.
“I had planned to do my Christmas shopping before all the rehearsals began … did that happen? No,” she says. “But I am glad I’m not twiddling my thumbs through Christmas, thinking: ‘Can I afford this?’ ” ideas. I’m going to try to bring warmth and friendliness into morning radio.”
Bert’s exuberance was reflected in his work, both on his morning radio show – where he quickly topped the ratings — and in his work with The Don Lane Show, New Faces and Celebrity Squares. It was hard not to be struck by the directness of his presentation, which evoked those spontaneous days at the very beginning of TV.
You never saw Bert thinking about what clever wheeze he could pull off next; it was always just there, apparently without conscious thought. And as The Don Lane Show’s success grew, a new audience developed for him. ONLINE VIDEO: Watch a reel of some of Bert Newton’s greatest television moments at theaustralian.com.au/review
Actress Miranda Tapsell