Toni Scanlan relishing stage turn in Perth production of Angels in America

Toni Scanlan in Heath Ledger Theatre. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d453136
Toni Scanlan in Heath Ledger Theatre. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d453136

PERTH actor Toni Scanlan may have adopted Brunswick Heads in NSW as her new home but her east coast base could never beat a Cottesloe sunset.

Scanlan is at the beach for this interview following rehearsal for Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Angels in America, her first production in Perth since performing in Dorothy Hewett play Fields of Heaven at The Playhouse Theatre 34 years ago.

Although theatre is her first love, Scanlan said she was still most recognised for her six years on Australia drama Water Rats where she cited the catering and consistency of a pay check as the highlights of the gig.

“Getting a gig on television is like winning the lottery,” she said.

“I don’t think the work was as interesting in those days, although it might be for those doing television now because I think the scripts are probably a bit better than they were.

“It’s not like doing a play where there’s a beginning, middle and end and you have a beautiful five to six weeks of rehearsal where you can really find a character quite in depth.

“You don’t know who you are really in television, they just say ‘play you’ and a lot of actors don’t like playing themselves; that’s why they became actors.”

Scanlan said she jumped at the chance to return home for the Black Swan season of playwright Tony Kushner’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play.

Set in 1985 New York, the drama follows young gay man Prior Walter who has been diagnosed with AIDS and abandoned by his lover.

He is visited in a dream by an angel who brands him a prophet and tasks him with saving humanity from themselves.

“It is a crackingly good play; it is just such a dynamic, extraordinary piece of work and I don’t know any actor who wouldn’t love to do it,” Scanlan said.

“It’s a fantastic piece with great themes and at the end of the day it’s funny, surreal, honest and confronting, and that makes for a bloody good night at the theatre.”

Scanlan said she had drawn on her Stanislavski’s system of transformation training at Drama Centre London to play multiple characters in the production, ranging from Mormon mother Hannah to an 88-year-old rabbi and historical figure Ethel Rosenberg.

“It’s set when the world was trying to get its head around the AIDS epidemic,” she said.

“It shows us how far we’ve come by overcoming prejudice and facing that problem head on, at least here in the west.

“But in another way, the play shows us how much we need to face and make reparations for things like climate change, corporate greed and political ineptitude.

“It makes us look at the notion of real responsibility which often requires us to change; Tony Kushner said we would rather die than change.”

Tanya MacNaughton

THE ESSENTIALS

What: Angels in America

Where: Heath Ledger Theatre

When: May 28 to June 19

Tickets: www.ticketek.com.au