Amanda Muggleton is probably Australia’s busiest actor. She’s touring her one-woman hit stage comedy, the award-winning The Book Club again and talks about it to IAN HORNER.
The Book Club is about a bunch of disparate women who all have their reasons for escaping their lives to bury themselves in the hit books of the moment — which suggests the play taps into that hidden suburbia which so took to heart Fifty Shades of Grey.
‘‘Noooo! Absolutely not! Not that I’ve finished reading it myself! I started reading Fifty Shades of Grey because we talk about it in the show and, of course, it’s very funny because as soon as I mention the author's name, E.L. James, certain people in the audience go ‘oh, yes' even before I've said the title so they let on they've read it! It brings the house down.’’
Amanda Muggleton has been portraying the dreams of the everyday housewife for much of her illustrious career; Steaming, Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, Calendar Girls. It's an audience she speaks to, and respects. An audience that's loved her back for, er, a long time.
‘‘Yes, I play a housewife, Deborah, sort of a middle-aged middle-class version of Shirley Valentine. She’s married well, had two daughters who’ve both left home — one's married and is a lawyer and the other's having an affair with a married man. My husband's going through his second childhood, the 'manopause'. He was a sporting star and he’s trying to recapture that. He keeps buying sporting equipment that never gets used. He's entering a marathon so he’s busy training.
‘‘So Deborah's got no husband, no children, no life. One of her women friends says 'Come to our book club'. So she does and you meet all the other girls there. They take it in turns to hold the club in their homes. When it’s my turn I choose a local writer and I tell the girls not only are we going to read his book but I’ve asked him to come and talk to us.
‘‘They’ve never had a man in their book club! Well, I end up having a passionate affair with him. Things like this do happen, you know. It's not an intellectual night in the theatre. If it was I wouldn’t be doing it. Yes, I love to make people think — but I do love to make them laugh!''
Is Deborah a bit pathetic or just struggling like all of us?
‘‘[Laughs] She’s lonely. She fantasises about meeting a writer. She’s full of imagination. She’s always putting herself in characters’ shoes. She wants to be Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. She aligns herself with Anna Karenina! But she doesn’t align herself with Anastasia Steele, the girl in Fifty Shades of Grey [laughs] although she admits what none of the others will, that she’s a bit turned on by it. She wants to talk about it and somebody shuts her up but the audience know I’ve had quite a ride with it!
‘‘She’s adventurous, very clever and very funny. She’s completely honest and upfront with the audience and that's where the comedy comes from. She’s great fun.''
Why didn’t you finish reading Fifty Shades of Grey?
‘'I got a bit bored with the writing, to be honest. It was very repetitive. The leading girl kept saying the same thing, like ‘holy cow!’ and ‘crikey!’ I gave up in the end.
We get loads of book clubs coming and they all identify with all the people in the club — the bossy-boots, the one who thinks she’s above everyone else, the sex maniac, the elderly lady, Milly, from Wales. I play 14 different characters, including my husband and my lover and there’s a dog in it — that makes people laugh when I play the dog!''
Listen to Amanda talk about preparing to tour The Book Club (duration 3:03):
A lot of actors wouldn’t, or couldn’t, tour outside the main cities like this.
‘‘Believe me, the welcome I get wherever we go it’s worth that alone. I had the most fun in Bruce Rock in Western Australia. I’d never heard of Bruce Rock. There were only about 600 people in the whole town and they all turned out for the play.''
My father, ironically also named Bruce, was born there!
''Oh, you’re joking! Oh, Ian, how amazing. Well, I loved Bruce Rock. It’s a really pretty town. We’re going to Dubbo soon. I did Shirley Valentine there years ago in a bull saleyard. I did! For charity. And all the farmers came from far and wide and it was one of the most magical nights in my entire career. I had a horse-float as my dressing-room. They painted it silver and covered the inside with flowers. It was the most beautiful dressing room I’ve ever had. I didn’t mind doing a wee in a can!’’
You love breaking the rules. Like TV. Most actors look down on it but you’ve done so much of it.
‘‘Oh, but I like to work Ian! And I love a challenge. The more difficult, the more I’ll give it a go! You’ve gotta be brave to do what I do. It’s hard. It’s hard! There are so few jobs for everyone. I'm extremely blessed and very, very lucky that I’ve never had to do anything other than act. Many of my dear, dear friends who are so talented, they might get one job a year. They end up throwing in the towel. At least I’ve never had to do that. I really do love what I do. And I’ll do whatever I have to.’’
On that score, I wasn’t going to ask you about nudity in this play [she laughs]. You've famously done quite a bit — Steaming, Shirley Valentine, Calendar Girls. Then the producers sent me a media kit full of your photos which are, shall we say, highly nude-suggestive!
"It was the producers' idea! They asked me to do a pose like Christine Keeler, from the Profumo Affair, naked on a very famous chair. It’s to let people know it’s not just a show about books! Deborah does find her sexuality, like Shirley Valentine did."
Frankly, you’re one of the very few actors in their very late 30s who can pull it off.
‘‘[Raucous laughter] I love you, Ian. I’m still 39, you know.’’
See the nude photos and listen to Amanda interviewed by Ian Horner about them, with Murray Wilton on 2UE Evenings (duration 3:06):
You have the dream escape job of being able to submerge yourself in others' lives and experience their journeys.
‘‘I do! I lose myself totally in whatever I’m doing — Shakespeare or Chekov, Prisoner or Richmond Hill, Educating Rita or Blood Brothers, Annie, Maria Callas. I’m lucky, that’s what I am. Oh, just to qualify, I do not take my clothes off in The Book Club. Fear not, everybody. I’d need a bit of ironing. There’s no nudity but there is the funniest bonking scene I've ever had to play. Not that I’ve done many. In fact, I can’t think of any! I might have jumped into bed on Prisoner.’’
So a bonking scene in a one-woman play. It must be extraordinarily athletic!
‘‘That’s where the comedy comes in. And what I love more than anything, is it’s the men who laugh the loudest! It’s great when men can laugh at themselves!’’
Scroll down for dates, showtimes and booking details.
The Book Club is playing at:
• Sutherland Entertainment Centre on September 6 (8pm). Details, bookings: sutherlandshire.nsw.gov.au/Arts_Entertainment/Entertainment_Centre or 9521 8888.
• Marana Auditorium, Hurstville Entertainment Centre, on September 8 (8pm). Details, bookings: hec.org.au or trybooking.com or 9330 6222.
• Zenith Theatre, Chatswood, on September 18 (7.30pm), 19 (1.30pm, 7.30pm), 20 (7.30pm), 21 (1.30pm, 7.30pm), 22 (5pm). Details, bookings: zeniththeatre.com.au or 9777 7555.
• The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, October 3 (2pm, 8pm), 4 (8pm), 5 (2pm, 8pm). Details, bookings: theq.net.au or 6285 6290.
Amanda Muggleton's homepage: amandamuggleton.com.au
Ian Horner's other interviews:
Casey Donovan for Mama Cass tribute – Casey has found her own idol
Rachel Griffiths for Magazine Wars – We owe a big debt to Ita and Dulcie
Simon Burke for Mrs Warren’s Profession – A timeless take on the oldest profession
Ellen's mum Betty DeGeneres on marriage equality – Not supporting gay marriage is bullying
Amanda Muggleton for Torch Song Trilogy – Return to the spotlight
Matthew Mitcham for Twists and Turns – He couldn't believe the moment would last