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April 22, 2021

Interview with Jillian Murray

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The Lovers of Viorne is at NORPA, Lismore City Hall on Friday and Saturday. Photo by Oscar Strangio

The Lovers of Viorne

NORPA – Lismore City Hall  |  Saturday 14 & Sunday 15 June  |  7.30pm  | $20-54

A brutal murder is committed in a small town in France. The dismembered corpse is dropped from a railway viaduct onto passing trains below… all except the head. Witness this modern classic psychological thriller that takes you right inside the heart and mind of a murderer. 

Following four sold-out seasons at Melbourne’s La Mama and fortyfivedownstairs, Marguerite Duras’s gripping crime drama The Lovers of Viorne will come to NORPA in Lismore on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 June on its national tour. In a coup for NORPA, these will be the only performances of the play in NSW and QLD on the national tour. Jillian Murray spoke with The Echo. 

What is it about this play that drew you to take part in it not once but twice?

This is actually our fifth return season! Audiences and reviewers can’t seem to get enough of this work – and neither can I. It’s an extraordinary story of a seemingly ordinary marriage. It’s a totally immersive and spellbinding experience for us, the two performers, and for the audience. Just when you think you have an answer another piece of the jigsaw emerges. But who is telling the truth? Each time I perform this demanding work I’m transported into another world. A curious world I adore inhabiting for 100-plus minutes. I’ve been nominated several times for the Industry Green Room Award for Best Actor. This time round I was quietly confident I might have to make an acceptance speech. I did. 

Does your preparation for a morbid character / subject like this differ from your usual character / performance preparation? If so how?

I play both an interviewer and Claire Lanne. Claire is accused of the murder of her cousin, who was the couple’s housekeeper for 21 years. Claire did no housework or cooking (who’s envious?!). Until the husband arranged for the cousin to keep house he found daily life a bit tricky, but this was soon managed with the arrival of Claire’s cheerful cousin who kept house for them. 

Every character I play requires hours and hours of work on the script – not only learning lines but thinking about why these words? What do they tell me about whom I’m playing? Claire is not at all morbid. She has a clear and logical mind. She can be quick, witty, and humorous. But she can’t/won’t explain why she committed the crime of which she’s been accused. 

Did you notice your own experience of life shift as a function of your immersion with such dark subject matter during your months of rehearsing and character?

Thankfully no. We have a terrific team working on this production. Critical Stages – the touring company, our stage manager, our director, and my wonderful fellow actor Rob Meldrum are among the best. There is great amount of respect for what we each do, good communication and a lot of fun. Our tour started in Alice Springs. I feel like we are going to giggle our way around Australia. Touring with great company provides lots of opportunities for laughter. My industry does, however, have a poor record for building and maintaining strong mental health and our union is working hard to address these important issues. 

Two years ago when you previously performed this play an interviewer summed you up as: ‘Suffice to say she [you] is in a constant state of becoming’. Would you like to elaborate on what you think they meant by that?

It was actually a quote I used to describe myself. Not sure who first said it. It’s about being open to difference and growing as a result. It’s always hard to respond to the question ‘who are you?’ I know I’m someone who is welcoming and curious about ideas and about people. Abraham Lincoln said: ‘I don’t like that person. I must get to know them better.’

I value the qualities of kindness, empathy, and tolerance. I admire world leaders like Jacinda Ardern, who has the courage to promote such qualities as an important part of national character. They have too often been seen as weak and feminine qualities. They are not. 

What has been your experience of the play this time around in comparison to your first reading of it?

A finely written text provides many opportunities to always find more. In rehearsing the show for the national tour we’ve thought more about the curious dynamic between the subject and the interviewer. Who is the interviewer? Why are they there? They are not the police but who are they? First the husband is interviewed then the wife. 

You obviously enjoy this play. What would you say to theatre fans up here in northern NSW about this play and what they can expect when they come to see it?

We love performing this play, and to take it on tour around Australia is a brilliant opportunity to share this exquisite, delicate, and sometimes humorous work, which has been described by one reviewer as ‘pure theatre’.

The writer Helen Garner came to see the show – twice! She wrote, ‘I was thunderstruck by the play. Transfixed. Awestruck. I wished it would go on forever.’ I hope those who come to see us at NORPA will feel the same. We will certainly be giving you our all. 

The Lovers of Viorne at NORPA at Lismore City Hall on Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm.

Tickets via lismorecityhall.com.au


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