This week on drama* on the waterfront, we hear from Harriet Prebble, who plays the role of iconic New Zealand author Janet Frame in Gifted.
The initial hurdle of approaching the role of Janet Frame as an actor was tackling the juxtaposition between mythology and reality. Gifted is told entirely from the point of view of Frank Sargeson, who also serves as the play’s narrator. Through his eyes we see snapshots of memory: Janet at her highest, her lowest, her most magical, her most inaccessible, her most human, all filtered through Frank’s cycling emotions of curiosity, confusion, jealousy, fear, and admiration.
We are, by necessity, somewhat removed from Janet’s intellectual and emotional inner world, as she wanders in and out of Frank’s recollections. Finding the internal truth and conviction of the character that underlies the external mysticism is just the sort of challenge I got into acting for.
There’s a wonderful scene in the play where Frank accuses Janet of “eavesdropping”. Growing up in a writing household, I learnt very quickly that writers border on omniscience: they see all; they hear all. Any anecdote, any colourful character, any turn of phrase is ripe for the plucking. I love this exploration of the watchfulness of writers, and Janet in particular. Even if they’re shy (or, in fact, especially so) or socially removed and even if they appear to be disinterested or distracted, they’re still taking everything in – wordless exchanges, silly jokes, and even silences – whether as material for their next novel or just pure intrinsic fascination with people and the language they use.
Language is a focal point of the play, and it’s great to be able to take the audience through the fun of words. Wordplay, puns, etymology, patterns, poetry, innuendo – it’s a real chance to delight in something that we so often default to using purely as a tool. I’ve always had a fascination with language (I studied foreign languages at the University of Canterbury and went on to complete a publishing diploma in Wellington) and this play absolutely revels in it at all levels, from lofty literary allusions to Dead Souls right down to the humble fart joke.
This is my first time tip-toeing the boards of Circa, and I’m very proud to present this beautiful tale of our literary history to the audiences of Wellington, the cultural capital of New Zealand.
Gifted opens at Circa Theatre on 10 October, and runs until 31 October.
BOOK NOW: 04 801 7992 or www.circa.co.nz