FROM LIT­TLE THINGS

Mi­randa Tapsell is mov­ing on up, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - PROFILE -

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

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