Kate MulvanySowing The Seed

It seems like Kate Mulvany is incapable of being still. Her list of accomplishments as an actress and writer reads like someone who is well advanced in their years, certainly not someone under the age of 30. Tough and articulate, sensitive but grounded, Kate is not one to sit back and watch life go by, (that is, unless, she happens to be observing material for a new play). She is almost hesitant to admit the fact that she was born with cancer, most likely because she doesn’t want to be perceived as a victim, which she is anything but. Her plays deal with colossal subjects; issues of warfare, genetics and politics, but she effortlessly weaves in these themes creating memorable characters and entertaining stories that have managed to touch a chord with a wide audience. 

Since leaving Geraldton, Western Australia, Kate moved to Perth where she attended Curtin University and graduated in 1997. She has performed with the Perth Theatre Company in various productions including Dog’s Barking, Stories from Suburban Road and Milk and Honey. In the production of Killer Joe with Diana Bliss Productions, Kate was nominated for a Best Actress Green Room Award. When moving east to Sydney, Kate performed with the Sydney Theatre Company in a number of productions, namely Proof, Festen, The Crucible, King Lear and A Man with Five Children. For Company B, she appeared in Buried Child and Blasted. And that’s just a mere sample of her acting credits. Her plays are equally credible with Blood and Bone winning the Naked Theatre Company’s ‘Write Now!’ competition, Naked Ambition short listed for Short and Sweet 2004, and The Danger Age short listed for the 2004 Patrick White Playwright’s Award.

Then, there’s the play that has had everyone talking. The excitement it’s stirred has taken it from its run in the intimate downstairs space of Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre, to the main stage upstairs. Artistic director Neil Armfield could not be more delighted with this budding talent. The Seed, which will start its season this year on February 21, won the Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award in 2004 providing Kate with a $10,000 writer’s commission for Belvoir St Theatre’s B Sharp season; a long way for a work that took substantial time, ongoing encouragement and enormous patience to fully germinate.

Initially to be a novel, The Seed tells the story of three generations of the Maloney family reuniting in a small apartment in England after a thirty year hiatus. Danny, a traumatised Vietnam veteran brings his 30-year-old Australian daughter, Rose, a writer also suffering from the after-effects of war, to meet her grandfather, Brian, a passionate IRA supporter. This intense drama exploring the long lingering aftermath of war and its detrimental effects on personal lives is one that Kate holds close to her heart. It is after all mostly inspired by her own family with her father also a Vietnam vet, and consequently, Kate’s cancer, like that of Rose’s, having a potential link to the horrific ordeal that was Operation Agent Orange. “I used my family as a blueprint for the play. I spoke to my father constantly… and although Rose mirrors my life in some ways, she and I have totally different personalities… The funny thing is the more I tried to fictionalise the story, the more personal it became.”
{xtypo_quote_right}I was very nervous about writing this play. It meant going to a lot of dark places but it helped that I’m very close to my family{/xtypo_quote_right}
Extensive research was one facet but going in-depth into a personal family history meant that Kate had to be brave enough to confront the demons. “I was very nervous about writing this play. It meant going to a lot of dark places but it helped that I’m very close to my family.” After over three years of talking to her father and his fellow vet friends, and writing a substantial portion of the play, Kate was then thrown into further disarray when she lost her laptop with all her work. The challenge however did not deter her and she persevered, even writing the synopsis for her application for the Philip Parsons Award in a motel room in Wagga Wagga. Kate’s resilience shines in not only her determination to see this play through after her various hurdles, but also in her reiteration that this is by no means a way of her “having a whinge”, (clearly also an indication of her sheer modesty).

While The Seed makes some very serious political commentary, it’s also meant to be very funny. “This is about an Englishman, Irishman and an Australian,” says Kate as if she’s about to descend into a bad joke. “There’s Irish humour but also English stoicism and Australian dryness. It’s a play about family and family relationships, something that’s timeless with universal appeal.”

With her dream cast comprising Danny Adcock as Vietnam vet Danny, (who Kate admits to writing the role for), and Martin Vaughan as Brian, who she performed with in Mr Bailey’s Minder at the Griffin Theatre Company, Kate couldn’t be happier. Never intending to play the part of Rose, Kate actually had several actresses in mind. “But two of them ended up going overseas and the other two became pregnant. My Mum said she’d love for me to play the part and so I decided to,” she explains. Kate is also thrilled to be working with the likes of Iain Sinclair and Neil Armfield as directors. Describing the set as friendly and relaxed, her role as actress and writer seem to be loose with both directors encouraging open dialogue during rehearsal. “If anything, I feel like the student. Iain, Neil, Danny and Martin teach me so much. Every single day, there’s a new perspective for me. It might just be something like a change in a stage direction that adds a slight new nuance to a character.”

Since opening last year, Kate’s family, after much intrigue and refusal to read the play beforehand, finally came to see it. “They were initially very scared… but seeing it has made them feel they’ve learnt something about themselves and it’s made them realise that they have an important story.” Clearly Kate’s family are not the only ones feeling such connections, as she’s regularly approached after performances by other parents telling her about their son or daughter with spina bifida potentially resulting from chemical warfare. “It makes me realise that I’ve captured a demographic in Australia which makes me feel good but it also makes me angry… but anger’s not a bad thing.”

After The Seed runs its course at the Belvoir, Kate will head to Brisbane where another play of hers, The Danger Age, which is set during World War 2, will have its premier at La Boite Theatre Company. When asked, what it is about war as a reoccurring theme in her work, Kate simply responds: “I’m actually more interested in the soldier and the viewers of war than war itself. In The Danger Age, I look at war through the eyes of a young boy, an Australian, a family member.”

With all these Australian stories up her sleeve, it seems that Kate Mulvany is not showing any signs of slowing down. Refusing to choose between acting and writing, Kate is juggling the two quite happily. “For me, they go hand in hand; they feed each other.” At the end of the year, she will play Antigone in a production in Perth. To add to that, she has two writing commissions; one for Bell Shakespeare and another for Hothouse/ Black Swan. “I feel that Australian theatre is in a wonderful position. I’m constantly inspired; it’s a real energised community we’re in.”

The Seed opens 21 February at Belvoir St - further information»

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