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Byron Shire
September 25, 2021

Interview with Toni Scanlon, directer of the play Switzerland

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‘Switzerland’ at the Drill Hall – a psychological thriller starring Liz Chance and Charlie Burton, 18 June–4 July.

Thriller at the Drill

The Drill Hall Theatre Company are about to open the curtain on their latest play, Switzerland, a psychological drama written by Joanna Murray-Smith. Starring veteran actor Liz Chance and newbie, Charlie Burton, this is a unique story that unravels between the reclusive writer Patricia Highsmith and Edward, the young man sent to woo her back to her publisher. Directed by Toni Scanlon, this is an intense psychological thriller perfect for a cold winter’s night!

From a Director’s point of view the play had immediate appeal. ‘Patricia Highsmith has always fascinated me since reading The Talented Mr. Ripley many years ago,’ says Toni. ‘I read a biography on her a few years ago and could not put it down. She is at once loathsome and brilliant. Joanna Murray-Smith has written a fictional play about her in the style of Highsmith herself – a very dark and sometimes funny psychological drama.

Her dialogue is swift and smart and that is very appealing.’

The play is leveraged on the tension between the two actors, with a disturbing intimacy that builds throughout the piece. ‘There’s an intimacy there – and as a writer she understands the relationship between the writer and her characters. I think she has given us a chance to understand a little of this in this play. On top of that, we have Patricia Highsmith, who was a very complicated, terrifying, bigoted, reclusive, homophobic lesbian, and collector of snails. An irresistible character for a writer!’

Celebrated actor Liz Chance steps in as Patricia Highsmith. The role is a gift for a senior actor. ‘When I first read Switzerland I was blown away. I’m a big fan of Joanna Murray-Smith and I thought straight away this was one of her best. She doesn’t sugarcoat Highsmith, rather she reveals her as a grumpy, pugnacious, racist, miserly, paranoid, homophobic lesbian, who was potentially sociopathic like her most famous creation, Tom Ripley. What’s not to love? But in another way it is also a love letter to writing itself. The text is brilliant. Any actor would kill to play this role.’

What Liz loves most is playing a character that is a mass of contradictions ‘A famous anti-Semite who nevertheless surrounded herself with Jewish lovers, friends and business partners, all lasting forty years or more; she realised by the age of twelve she was a boy in a girl’s body, but she hated women because they ‘allowed’ themselves to be treated as second class citizens, yet fell in love with them constantly. Murder obsessed her as an expression of power and she saw love in the same way. [It was] all started by her mother who first abandoned her at three months old after attempting to abort her. Plays about nice people are boring.

How the audience feel about her is their business. Nothing to do with me, not in the job description.’

Liz is joined on stage by Charlie Burton, a 20 year old who returned from Melbourne to play the lead male. ‘When I got the chance to play Edward opposite Liz I jumped at the chance’ said Charlie. ‘Working with Liz and Toni has been an incredible opportunity.’ Charlie had made it to the final 15 at the NIDA auditions when Liz’s daughter found out he was from Mullumbimby and asked if he’d consider auditioning for the role. So Charlie escaped Melbourne’s lockdown and instead has been in a Switzerland lockdown!

Switzerland previews on Wednesday 16 June at the Drill Hall as a fundraiser for the Byron Greens. It then runs 18 June–4 July. Discover vouchers can be used; for tix go to drillhalltheatre.org.au

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  1. Greens are “previewing” the play on Wednesday 16 June, two days before the ‘grand’ opening. Guess wot … you don’t need to be a Green to join us. Tickets for the Preview only are availble at the following (very klunky) website and we’d love to see you there:
    Please call Duncan 0429 845 440 if that link doesn’t work.


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