Listening to Ric Herbert wax lyrical about Manly, you’d be forgiven for assuming he’s a local. You know the type, born and bred on the northern beaches, leaving in a box.
In fact, the actor and singer is actually an import, from Bondi no less, where he really was a local for 30 plus years.
“Yes, I came from the dark side,” he laughed. “I got my visa, got my passport stamped and made the journey over to Manly, and I love it, absolutely love it.
There’s so much to offer, the people, the locality, the water, so rich with sea life. Swimming with my mask and snorkel, I see amazing things, a beautiful majestic bronze whaler, stingrays and all sorts of big fish. It saved my sanity during lockdown.”
And then there’s Manly’s Uniting Church, oddly enough the stage for Ric’s next acting role in February, a little more unusual than others, but then The Silver Tunnel is a very unusual play.
“Scene one is in a graveyard, scene two in Hell, scene three in Heaven, all set inside the church,” Ric said. “It’s interesting, because people usually come to church to share symbolic things, like weddings, funerals or christenings. It’s a very different feeling using it as a theatre.”
The black comedy, themed around suicide, is written by Kirribilli author Warwick Moss and debuted in November 2020 when Reverend Bill Crews offered his Ashfield Uniting Church as a performance space. Ric stars as Harry, who cares for the graves in Sydney’s oldest cemetery, in particular seven at the top of the hill which mark First Fleeters who suicided. It’s while digging a grave for a mysterious eighth and during his animated conversations with the dead, when Jason, (Tim Matthews) a suicidal apprentice gravedigger, arrives.
“That throws the cat among the pigeons,” Ric said. “It’s a roller coaster ride wondering what’s going to happen over the next 50 minutes.”
The play is free and the first to be invited when it opened were the people Rev Bill feeds at his Loaves and Fishes Free Restaurant, which has been feeding the homeless and vulnerable for more than 30 years at his Ashfield church.
“But being such an engaging piece it attracted others, including regular theatre goers. It was fantastic to see such a diverse group in the audience,” Ric said. “One night John Singleton was there, the next a group of men from a rehab centre, who came up to us afterwards and said “wow that’s what it’s really like to have voices in your head and not be in charge of your own life, to live on the edge”.”
Ric has enjoyed a long and varied career, scoring leads in major musicals including The Full Monty, Rocky Horror Show and Jesus Christ Superstar, when a young Tim Minchin understudied him for his role as Judas. He’s also been a regular in Australian television dramas and has a successful career in voice over work.
However, when pressed to choose between stage, television or film, Ric chooses GetRicH, the band he formed 15 years ago with lead guitarist Ben Marshall.
“We gig once or twice a week, but we never know what’s going to happen,” he laughed. “One of us will get an idea in the middle of a song, yank it sideways, and then we’ll all follow, layering in different songs. The audience loves it.”
Ric expects a very different reaction from his audience watching The Silver Tunnel, suspecting they’ll walk away with a greater sense of awareness of people in need and the belief that there is always hope. And the reach will be greater as the play tours across NSW over the next couple of months.
“My mother used to say, ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ and it’s true, anybody can end up homeless and desperate. Sure, The Silver Tunnel has a strong emphasis on suicide, but the message will be to choose life. In the end, it’s always about choosing life.”