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In Conversation with Laura Iris Hill | GHOSTS

Updated: May 28

"Her desire to access as much strength as she can in a time that required her to suppress her truth, her wishes, her very essence is something I find deeply compelling."

Today we chat with Laura Iris Hill about preparing for and performing Mrs Alving in the upcoming production of GHOSTS written by Jodi Gallagher after Henrik Ibsen and directed by Steven Mitchell Wright. Playing at Theatre Works from 30 May to 15 June.

What initially interested you in GHOSTS?

A number of factors. Having performed a significant amount of Shakespeare in my time, I jumped at the chance to become involved with a different kind of classic work. I hadn't performed much Ibsen; only touching on some scene work as Nora from A Doll's House at uni. I just hadn't come across many other opportunities to perform Ibsen over the years. However,  I love the complex characters Ibsen creates for women posing questions to the audience about our place in society. Then there was the opportunity to work with Steven Mitchell Wright whose creative mind and artistic expression I knew would bring an engaging and unique approach to this new Australian interpretation of Ibsen's Ghosts to the stage. Finally, I was excited about performing at Theatre Works, a venue and theatre company I was familiar with but having spent the best part of the last decade living overseas I had not had the opportunity to perform with yet. What a wonderful gift to be able to play Mrs Alving in GHOSTS by Jodi Gallagher after Henrik Ibsen directed by Steven Mitchell Wright at Theatre Works! I feel incredibly lucky.

How do you relate to your character? Are there aspects of their story or personality that resonate with you personally?

Other than being of a similar age, Mrs Alving and I don't have a lot in common if you look only at her personal circumstances. However, her desire to access as much strength as she can in a time that required her to suppress her truth, her wishes, her very essence is something I find deeply compelling. Women still must "play along", to certain degrees, in order to live in our patriarchal structures that limit the full participation and expression of our authentic selves without attack or condemnation. That resonates with me and stories like this are essential in bringing these ideas into the light.

Can you describe a typical day of rehearsals for GHOSTS? What is the atmosphere like behind the scenes?

The first thing in describing a typical day of rehearsal is there is no typical day of rehearsal for GHOSTS. You can count on Steven to give us a task that will help us to uncover, reveal and express certain aspects of our characters beyond the literal so we can connect to our character's story, heart, truth, struggles, strengths and vulnerabilities. The images this work conjures in your mind are vivid and lingering. Also, the physical test you put yourself through in bringing your character to life is visceral to the point where even in moments of stillness you feel actively engaged. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Steven and it is certainly making me a better actor. 

As far as the atmosphere behind the scenes goes, it is one of real support, trust, compassion, professionalism and with a healthy dose of fun and silliness too. Attacking the work with courage is unrestrained by having such a supportive community of artists all working together. 

What role does the setting of Australia in the late 1800s play in your character development?

The movement from a cold, remote and isolated Norwegian setting to a hot, remote and isolated Australian setting appealed to me. The impact of a harsh unforgiving environment on the characters in GHOSTS remains. However, the Australian setting delivers a more immediate connection for the audience.  

Mrs Alving struggles with the harshness of the landscape in a colonised Australia dogmatically attached to the restrictions of old British attitudes and customs. The irrationality of these restrictions, attitudes and customs highlights the personal struggles and circumstances Mrs Alving navigates through the course of the play.

What kind of research or preparation did you do to authentically portray your character?

I always begin by reading the play. That's the simple first step. Reading Ibsen's Ghosts before receiving Jodi's adaptation was the entry point. Mrs Alving is influenced by modern thinkers, philosophers and other writers of the time but Ibsen makes no mention of who they might be so looking into who would or could have been influencing her thinking was another avenue to explore. Also, Jodi's adaptation is set in Australia so I was interested in discovering what aspects of our history, culture and attitudes here might have affected her or have been part of the environment in which she was living. I was particularly interested in exploring the female perspectives and experiences of the time. Then there was reading or rereading Ibsen's work and commentary that I might not have been familiar with or on which I needed a refresher. But, when all is said and done, it really comes down to connecting to the character and bringing her to life by accessing what is inside you and focussing that on how you think, feel and relate to the other characters in the story.


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