Backstage

TW Talks Tuesday: An Interview With Hannie Rayson

Hannie Rayson’s best-selling memoir Hello, Beautiful! returns for a limited season in May at Theatre Works. This one-woman show is a glorious love letter to Melbourne in which Rayson shares stories of her life and finding the extraordinary in the everyday.

HR: My mother used to urge me to write a book about our family. She said, ‘one day you will wake up and find us interesting. I’ve been a playwright since I was fresh out of drama school; my whole working life has been about finding other people interesting. Then one day, I woke up and found myself interesting.

First published in 2015, Hello, Beautiful! was met with critical acclaim, referred to as ‘a book of beautifully crafted, free-flowing vignettes that illuminates with warmth and humour’, but a stage adaptation was not originally part of the plan.

HR: My publisher sent me on a book tour; I went to 50 places around the country. I went to festivals and mechanics’ institute halls, to vineyards and bookshops and a horse stud and a women’s prison (the prisoners were reading my book in their book club). Everywhere I went, people said, ‘you should make a show.

HR: I went to see Matt Lutton at Malthouse and asked if he would be my director. He was the most fabulous partner imaginable for this project. He gave the play its simple, elegant form. Every single rehearsal, he laughed at the same jokes. I kept saying, ‘I think we need more photos of my son. Look how cute he is!’ He said, ‘I think one will be sufficient, Hannie.’ But my favourite moment of all was when he said, to me, the performer, ‘I think you need to pay more attention to the commas in the text.’ I have been seething (silently) at actors for 40 years about their cavalier disregard of the comma. Or any punctuation for that matter. Being told off by Matt over this issue was pure joy.

The book consists of 43 vignettes covering all facets of Rayson’s life from her childhood to university and her family and career. While each story has its own unique charm and appeal, choosing which to select for the stage was a very simple choice.

HR: There was no science to this. We just picked the ones we liked and I added a few new pieces, not in the book. My one regret is that we ditched the story about my mum’s neighbour who got murdered and buried under my Mum’s kitchen. Ask me about it in the Q&A, after the show.

Given the personal nature of these stories, it’s not surprising that readers and audiences were touched by the original season.

HR: My sense throughout the Hello, Beautiful! tour is that people love the intimacy and candour and stories. The great thing about telling you about Melbourne is that you’ll find it funny. If you grew up in Melbourne you’ve probably been to the same coffee shops and sunbaked on the same beaches as me. I wrote the show imagining the audience member as a close friend. I thought about us tucked up in two armchairs in my lounge room with a glass of wine. I thought about us pissing ourselves laughing.

 

Read more about Hello, Beautiful! here.

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