Sally McKenzie

Sally McKenzie is an actor, playwright, director and filmmaker. She has performed with nearly every major theatre company in Australia including La Boite, MTC, Nimrod, Playbox, QTC, STCSA, STC and many more. As a playwright, her plays include Scattered Lives and i dot luv dot u. Her arts documentary debuted on the ABC in 2008 and social documentary A Woman's Journey Into Sex will be completed this year and distributed locally by Icon and internationally by Off The Fence.

Sally McKenzie spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew about her current role, Ronnie Lowe, in Griffin Theatre's production of A Hoax.

Describe 'A Hoax' in seven words?
Ambitious writer contrives hoax and creates monster.

Describe the play's web of characters in brief?
Anthony AKA Ant: Social worker by day, ambitious fiction writer by night. Currah AKA Mirri: transforms from ambitious naïve teenager to media-hungry hoaxer. Ronnie Lowe: ambitious tough-talking literary agent. Tyrelle: ambitious African-American journalist. Commonality – all characters are ambitious.

Being mindful of spoilers, can you tell me about your character Ronnie Lowe?
We all know a Ronnie Lowe. She's the tough kid opportunist with a nose for making money. She's the straight-talking take-no-prisoners type who takes on the world and is used to winning. She lives to work. She calls a spade a spade. Her humour is like her taste in champagne – dry. She appraises the fiscal potential of Brand Currah and runs with it.

What excites you about the role of Ronnie Lowe?
Even though women represent 50% of the workforce, it's very rare to play a powerful woman. Female playwrights often become preoccupied with the biological clock. I have thanked Rick for realizing this female Kerry-Packer role and director Lee Lewis for giving me the opportunity to play it.

What has challenged you the most with this role?
The play's given circumstances. They're extreme. But then again – so's life.

What is your favourite line in the play, why so?
'Fuck me bare-back'. It's a line that can be used without any context.

One of the conceits of the play is that of 'a dark past' – does Ronnie have a dark past too?
Ronnie is a tough-on-the-outside rough diamond from 'new money' stock. She talks about her husband fucking her best friend but maybe she fucked the best friend's husband first!

It's a long run Sally and the staging of 'A Hoax' is a little unusual – can you tell me a little about this, why so, how so?
To address the 'long run' idea first. I wish it were longer. Love 'long runs'. The play unfolds over a duration of time and in a series of hotel rooms. Director Lee Lewis and designer Renee Mulder have conceived inspiring solutions to this staging challenge.

Tell me about the strangest thing that happened during rehearsals?
There's a section in the dialogue where Ronnie uses the word 'condescension' when she means condensation. In rehearsals I kept saying condensation instead of condescension. Strange...

Sally what seized you most of all when you first read Rick's script?
The situation, the comedy, the characters, the observation of the 'dark side' of human nature.

Tell me something about the wellspring of images that sprang to mind on your first few readings?
Readings highlight the text. So my initial reactions focused on that. So pragmatically, as a point of reference, I was probably making comparisons to Australian playwrights that I have performed. I was also seeking to nail the inherent style of Rick's play.

What do you love about the language in the play?
The text is 'heightened realism' in that it is sharp without 'ums' and 'ahs' (leave that to TV soaps)! It demands a committed muscularity.

What do you love about the humour in the play?
Its audacity.

What do you love about the social setting of the play?
Theatre foyers and foyer conversations are the milieu within which part of my world revolves, so the world of the play is one I can relate to. The air kissing, the meaningless foyer-chat. The looking everywhere but at the person you're shaking hands with after judging that they aren't helpful in accelerating your career. I exaggerate to make the point but you get my drift! I love that it's a contemporary work that deals with contemporary issues that have global significance.

Can you give me an example of the humour, a scene, a line of dialogue perhaps?
The humour is eclectic. There's initial-response humour: 'Life is like a big dick – hard'. There's dry humour: 'They've even got Foxtel'. 'How fancy'. And there's character-specific humour: 'As a biracial homosexual from a working class background, and someone, might I add, who has been ridiculed enough for some of my more outré mannerisms... Your stories touched me'.

Do you feel or know that Rick has been influenced by a particular playwright for 'A Hoax'?
A line from David Williamson's Money and Friends comes to mind: 'It's an eco-thriller. Chemically induced dwarf-outcasts come in from the desert to replenish their gene pool by kidnapping tall girls'. Compare this one of Rick's lines: 'This girl learned to read by staring at the printed version of interview with the Vampire while the audio booked played'.

Both writers demand the committed muscularity I cited earlier. I've spoken with Rick and know that he's not particularly familiar with David's work, however, having played a range of Williamson women, I identify similarities, viz., the heightened text, the heightened context, the chronicling of the social mores of our times. Oh, and both writers use the word 'fuck' a lot – an endearing quality!

A HOAX by Rick Viede, directed by Lee Lewis is now playing until 1 September, 2012. For bookings and further details click here»

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