The arts are my passion: drama, music, opera, dance, sculpture, painting, art history, architecture, film, literature... old and new... national and international... and after a period living, writing & performing in Australia and Italy this passion has brought me back to London. 'Blog Julie Arts' is a spin-off after success with 'There's Always A Story' at blogjulie.com

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Time Travel

In the middle of July millions of people were glued to their television watching the Wimbledon Men’s Final.  Many other millions were waiting to discover the new Dr Who - and to many people’s delight it turned out to be a woman under that mysterious grey cloak.  Yeah, Jodie Whittaker and the BBC!  It was a fabulous end to a thrilling weekend.
There was more media excitement, and collective emotional investment, in that announcement than there was in the outcome of our Westminster election (the one we didn’t need to have, and now look at our parliament, ugh, back to fantasy, no wonder we need to escape reality!).  I think that tells us something about our love of time travel - our need to imagine the impossible, to dwell within boundaries which, temporarily at least, seem limitless.  I’ve always been a rather occasional consumer of Dr Who, perhaps not quite having the DNA of a true Brit.  I admit I’m the same with Shaun of the Dead.  And yes, I know, it’s a right-of-passage for anyone adopting the UK as home, like Withnail and I, so much so I wonder why it isn’t on the UK passport test!  But this week I had an experience which has brought the notion of time travel into sharp relief.
I was asked to appear in a scene for the 4th webisode of Neighbours vs Time Travel.  It came up out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and I said yes because it sounded fun.  Apart from another possible ‘appearance’ a few years ago as a Zombie (ha ha, for better or worse the dates didn’t work), I had never expected to recreate the role of Julie Martin/Robinson.  Because, as fans know, character Julie (shared name a weird coincidence) fell off a tower in drunken hysterics to her death twenty years ago; after doing far too much nagging of her long-suffering husband.  So upon leaving the show, as sorry as I was to part from the regular company of the actors playing my family - especially Philip (Ian Rawlings), Michael (Troy Beckwith), Debbie (Marnie Reece Wilmore) and Hannah (Rebecca Ritters) - there was no option but to bid them a sad farewell.  I had made the decision to follow my heart (aka love of the theatre) to London.  And we all went on with different things in life, in diverse locations, as actors always do.  Chapter closed.
What surprised me last week was the flood of emotions I felt upon unexpectedly re-entering the Neighbours world.  I filmed 10,000 miles away from the familiar sets, with a small OB crew (outside broadcast) in London, and no other actors present.  Yet the minute I printed out the scene at home, and saw a rough cut of Ian doing his half of the scene in Melbourne (a telephone conversation between Julie and Philip), the memory and feel of a hundred things about that part of my life flooded back. Just hearing Ian’s voice, took me there, instantly.  And I time travelled, as suddenly as the You Tube audience were to do a week later. 
On a personal level I could see and feel myself as I was then.  I could see everyone around me.  My friendships from the show were instantly fresh and vivid, the activities I used to get up to (on and around the filming of the series), my apartment in South Yarra, my burgundy-coloured car, the restaurants I’d frequent, runs in the park, my personal trainer, the charity work, the Rainbow Warrior in port, Spring Carnival, cabaret shows at Mietta’s and Prior Engagements: my life of twenty years ago, suddenly present.  
Smack bang in the middle of this flashback was my old friend, Ian Rawlings, the lovely man I worked with so closely and happily for a little over two years; and there, in the scene he’d already filmed, a picture of our kids on the wall.  I have never forgotten how fond of them I was; nor the many positives about my Neighbours experience.  But until I suddenly saw Ian again - kindness and good humour ever present in his voice, on and off the set - I didn’t know how much I had missed him (and our gang)!  In historic interviews, I often said the best thing about my time on Neighbours was the line up of actors in the Robinson/Martin family – including Alan Dale and Anne Haddy (and for a shorter period of overlap, Stefan Dennis) – as we were so happy and comfortable together.  Like the Alessi family, we worked and mixed very well together.  Since, I’ve moved around the globe a lot, so I’m always missing people I love in Australia and New Zealand.  That’s also the nature of showbiz.  But it was precious to be reminded so quickly and warmly of that period of my life – without any effort on my part, without expectation or agenda.  To be dropped into it for a few short days, like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, was simply sweet.  It was not at all like talking about Neighbours, or thinking of it as a gig on my CV, it was a moment of intimate reminiscence and recognition – actually ‘being back there’, at the same time as ‘being where I am now’ in my life – which was the value and charm of it.  No wonder time travel proves fruitful for so many writers.
Professionally, I also think Ric Forster, the producer, has done a terrific job with these webisodes.  Everyone I’ve spoken to or engaged with on social media has commented on the comedy and slickness of the production.  So bravo and thanks to Ric!  And congratulations to the current cast for anchoring these wild leaps of imagination, and the entertaining appearances by all the guest characters.  It was a lot of fun.  It was emotional, in a good way. And it has given fans a real buzz. 

[I’m still giggling about Alan Fletcher’s rock ‘n roll riff; Jackie Woodburne’s Susan in the back of the limo after her rendezvous with Dr Karl; Gary as the Back to the Future character, Doc, and the waitress adding to the fray with “Great Scott”; and my favourite lines when Paul Robinson gets pulled over by a policeman for speeding in the time machine: “I thought you were a nurse.”  “Shsh I’m undercover.”  Classic.]

Julie Martin’s venture back from the dead is now over, as is our week of Halloween fun.  And it is time to get back to reality.  But as sojourn’s go, it was sweet and unexpected.  Like a school reunion I suppose, when your favourite people turn up.  It just so happened that this ‘blast from the past’ happened for me on camera.  And it didn’t feel at all like work.  It was exactly the fun I’d hoped.  Thankyou Neighbours.

Now I get the whole time travel thing, I’m keen for more Dr Who...



Thursday, 5 October 2017

An American in Paris

I’m coming straight to the point: the London production of An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre is utterly spectacular.  Quite simply, An American in Paris is all your showbiz fantasies come true.  And if you can resist this production’s charm and artistry then you are like the Tin Man before he meets the Wizard.  

It is nearly a fortnight since I saw the show and still I think about it – replaying images and musical moments in my mind, marvelling at the scrumptious designs, and recalling the incredible staging and choreography.  I see a lot of music, drama, opera and theatre (rarely a week passes without attending at least two events), and in a city as rich as London I am often satisfied and rewarded.  But this production is in another league.  It is glorious.  There are no cracks or joins, no evidence of work or striving, this theatrical extravaganza merely descends upon you, immersing you in something so special you will feel electrified with joy.  The level of sophistication, imagination and artistic skill in An American in Paris is so great it will excite and uplift you like nothing before. 

I adore the film.  I love my memories of growing up watching it with my dear Dad, who was a big Gene Kelly and Gershwin fan.  And not for a moment did I think a stage adaptation could live up to the brilliance of the film.  I was wrong.  This production – the creative team, cast and crew - push every boundary of theatrical expression and achievement so far that the sum of its colourful parts is so magnificent you really do feel that you’ve gone to another world.  The collaboration between music and song, dance and choreography, costume and style, design and staging, light and sound, narrative and character could not be more perfect.  Every detail of An American in Paris is infused with class and brilliance.  The audience cheered so loudly after every number it’s a wonder we didn’t lose our voices.  Remember the best rock concert you’ve ever been to, and imagine that kind of energy and shared-warmth in the auditorium and you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about.

All my theatrical dreams came true in this production of sheer delight – no retakes, nearly everything you get in the film but LIVE on-stage, visceral, new and polished, being recreated moment by moment by the most talented and inspired of performers.  Bravo!  If there was any justice in showbiz this production of An American In Paris would never close... it would out-do the Mousetrap 

You can’t describe real magic in words, any more than you can describe rhythm or love without feeling it.  It is an experience you have to see to believe.  So get off your backside and get to the Dominion Theatre.  Buy an air ticket if you have to, just get there.  Because if you see one classic musical on stage in your life – this should be it!