Life after Marj:

For­mer Short­land Street star El­iz­a­beth McRae has a re­cur­ring role in The Brokenwood Mys­ter­ies as the lo­cal gos­sip Mrs Mar­lowe. The ac­tress talks about work­ing in her 80s and her ac­tor grand­daugh­ters. Sarah Nealon re­ports.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

El­iz­a­beth McRae rel­ishes her role as the town gos­sip in Brokenwood.

As Marj Neil­son, she was one of Short­land Street’s most beloved char­ac­ters. Her tal­ent for play­ing Fern­dale’s busy­body re­cep­tion­ist won her fans around New Zealand.

While she won’t be re­turn­ing to the soap fol­low­ing her char­ac­ter’s death in Short­land Street’s 25th-an­niver­sary spe­cial episode, El­iz­a­beth McRae is still on screen act­ing the part of an­other nosey TV char­ac­ter.

The oc­to­ge­nar­ian has a small but re­cur­ring role in lo­cal crime drama The Brokenwood Mys­ter­ies as Mrs Mar­lowe. It’s some­thing she has done since the show’s sec­ond sea­son. (The pro­gramme is now in its fifth sea­son.)

“She’s been there for a while,” says McRae of her char­ac­ter.

“So she’s got an idea about the peo­ple who live there. She’s of­ten able to give the de­tec­tives some piece of in­for­ma­tion which of­ten leads to the solv­ing of the crime.

“She’s prob­a­bly the town gos­sip but ev­ery town needs gos­sip be­cause it’s the gos­sips who send the in­for­ma­tion round the whole com­mu­nity.”

The Brokenwood Mys­ter­ies stars Neill Rea and Fern Suther­land as de­tec­tives Mike Shep­herd and Kristin Sims, who solve mur­ders in the fic­tional town of Brokenwood which is home to McRae’s Mrs Mar­lowe.

McRae, who is 82, didn’t ex­pect to still be work­ing at her age but it helps that her role in the se­ries is part time.

“I’m not act­ing a full week,” she says. “When Short­land Street was go­ing, that was when I was very busy but it’s just nice to have the amount of work about. You know, three or four days per episode of Brokenwood. It suits me fine and they treat me very well.”

McRae was part of Short­land Street’s orig­i­nal cast and spent four years on the hospi­tal re­cep­tion desk as bossy Marj be­fore the char­ac­ter headed to Welling­ton to be an MP.

The ac­tress re­turned to Fern­dale a few times for guest ap­pear­ances and is one of the soap’s most mem­o­rable char­ac­ters. When asked why Marj was so pop­u­lar, McRae says it’s hard to know.

“I was there for the very be­gin­ning of the show when a lot of peo­ple were watch­ing,” she says.

“Although she was nar­row-minded at times, (Marj) of­ten saw her own faults and changed her mind.

“Usu­ally the thing with a soap char­ac­ter is that char­ac­ter can do any­thing. Other things where you say, ‘My char­ac­ter wouldn’t do that’, you don’t do that in soap. Your char­ac­ter can do any­thing.

“She be­came quite lib­eral minded. She was able to see her own faults. She was well mean­ing I guess.

“I still get recog­nised but quite of­ten it’s some­thing like, ‘Didn’t you live next door to us in Te Aroha?’ I think I’ve got a face which is sort of like ev­ery­body’s neigh­bour.”

McRae, who was born and raised in Welling­ton, pauses when asked what in­spired her to be an ac­tress.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I had a voice that car­ried so was given op­por­tu­ni­ties to speak I sup­pose at an early age and I found I could be heard. I felt more my­self when I was be­ing some­one else, ex­plor­ing other peo­ple. Ex­plor­ing a char­ac­ter is fas­ci­nat­ing.

“Stand­ing in the shoes of some­one else has al­ways fas­ci­nated me and I’ve al­ways been a great ob­server of peo­ple. That’s where it started, sit­ting in Welling­ton trams watch­ing the peo­ple op­po­site and mak­ing up sto­ries about them.”

McRae isn’t the only one in her fam­ily with a per­form­ing pas­sion.

Two of her adult grand­chil­dren, sis­ters Sally and Elsie Bollinger, are in­volved in mak­ing on­line shows.

“They are part of a group called The Can­dle Wasters,” says McRae.

“They’ve made I think four or five web se­ries based on Shakespearean plays. They’ve done ex­tremely well. They’ve just fin­ished one based on Ham­let.”

The Bollingers’ mother – McRae’s daugh­ter Kather­ine – is also an ac­tress. Kather­ine was cast in Short­land Street as a nurse and Marj’s es­tranged daugh­ter Brenda Hol­loway. Kather­ine also went be­hind the cam­era to work as a di­rec­tor on the soap.

Kather­ine is now gear­ing up to ap­pear as Marj in the stage show Short­land Street – The Mu­si­cal.

“It’s rather quaint,” says McRae, “that my daugh­ter is play­ing Marj.”

El­iz­a­beth McRae and Neill Rea

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