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HomeLifestyleEvents and ExhibitionsNew production of Colleen McCullough’s Tim debuts at Glen St Theatre

New production of Colleen McCullough’s Tim debuts at Glen St Theatre

A new stage production of Colleen McCullough’s novel Tim is premiering at Glen Street Theatre in Belrose on 27-30 July. Manly Observer spoke to multi-award-winning playwright Tim McGarry, a former creative director and producer at Monkey Baa Theatre Company for Young People, who adapted and updated the original storyline.

Tim was Australian author Colleen McCullough’s controversial first novel about a developmentally-impaired man, Tim Melville, who develops a close friendship with a significantly older woman, Mary Horton. On its publication it challenged social taboos.

McCullough followed this with The Thorn Birds, a family saga set on a sheep station, which remains Australia’s best-selling book (33 million copies sold) and inspired two TV mini-series and a musical.

So why did playwright Tim McGarry choose to adapt Tim into a stage production, instead of, say, The Thorn Birds, which is infinitely more successful and well-known, and was recently chosen to appear among 70 recommended books by Commonwealth authors to commemorate the 2022 Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II?

Playwright Tim McGarry – Photo: LMCM

“Why did I choose to bring Tim to the stage? A couple of steps,” he said. “When I graduated from WAAPA [Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts] back in the ‘80s, like all actors and theatre people I had to get a part-time job. A friend of mine, an actor, was working in group homes for people with disabilities. So I thought, ‘Oh, I might do that for a year or two. That’s a great thing to do.’

“32 years later, I have always worked as a casual support worker for people with disabilities in my ‘other life’, if you know what I mean.

“Through that I developed an understanding of how the world perceives people with disabilities, and how people with disabilities have challenges making their way through the world…

“I remember as a teenager reading Tim (my mum had a copy of the book – she was a big Colleen McCullough fan…) and it’s always been in the back of my mind as a story that is ageless. Sadly, many of the issues that Colleen brought up are still relevant.”

Early editions of Colleen McCullough’s first novel, Tim

He continued, “But what I’ve done is I have brought the story into the modern age – it’s now set in today [not 1974, when McCullough’s story was first published] and I’ve made adjustments….

“I reimagined it for the modern day, with a modern storyline. With the approval and the full support of the Colleen McCullough estate, I have reworked areas of the story around marriage, careers, women’s roles and around the language concerning people with disabilities…

“But the skeletal shape of the story that Colleen wrote is still very much there on stage. So, that kind of explains why I chose to write the play…”

The cast of the stage adaptation of Colleen McCullough’s ‘Tim’ with playwright Tim McGarry. Photo: Branco Gaica

Risqué roles and reactions

The central storyline follows a risqué topic: a wealthy and sophisticated businesswoman in her 40s befriends a man, around two decades younger, who has learning difficulties. Initially he is employed as her gardener, but their friendship develops in intensity.

The novel was controversial on its release in 1974, so too, the 1979 film adaptation, and in many ways relationships that encompass significant age and intellectual differences are still socially taboo, fifty years later.

In McCullough’s novel, Tim’s sister Dawnie, as the one who voices disapproval of Tim’s relationship with Mary, represents society’s reaction to age-defying social norms.

The 1979 film adaptation of Tim – video cover (left) and DVD cover (right).

If the gender roles were reversed, does McGarry consider audiences may interpret the play differently?

“Can I tell you, that is one of the main reasons I wrote it,” McGarry admits. “One of the things that stood out to me the most was the way that society is so very quick to judge women, especially older women and younger men in relationships. But when it comes to the reverse, it’s considered a notch on a man’s belt if he’s in his fifties and he is dating a woman in her 20s.

“Society has very different attitudes around gender and the way roles are played out. And that’s one of the significant reasons why I was interested in investigating the Tim story as a play. It’s a really interesting question.”

Movie adaptation filmed on Palm Beach

As aforementioned, McCullough’s Tim was also made into a movie, most of which was filmed on Palm Beach around Barrenjoey Headland, the setting for Mary Horton’s holiday home where Tim tends her garden.

Released in 1979, the film starred acclaimed American actress Piper Laurie and a young Mel Gibson, a break-out role for the latter (having recently appeared in Mad Max), who won the Australian Film Institute (AACTA) Best Actor award for his portrayal of Tim.

A scene from the 1979 movie, featuring Piper Laurie and Mel Gibson, filmed at Palm Beach.

Was McGarry’s script primarily influenced by McCullough’s novel, or from director Michael Pate’s film?

“That’s a great question, I’ve never thought about it,” McGarry considers. “I think it was a mixture of both… When I see a movie, I don’t remember all of the details, even a movie I saw last week. But I remember images and the way it made me feel.

“And I also remember aspects of the novel, specific moments, like the way Mary is perceived by other people in Tim’s life, and how they misconceive who she is in his world.

“So I think it’s a mixture of both, the book and the film. They both draw different images to me.”

By bringing the production to the Northern Beaches, it’s in close proximity to Palm Beach, where the movie was filmed.

“Absolutely,” he agrees. “But of course in Colleen’s original novel, Mary lives on the Upper North Shore, and her getaway holiday house is actually not too far north, on the Hawkesbury. So, Glen Street Theatre is a beautiful place to have a world premiere because it’s kind of where the story is set.”

Details: https://glenstreet.com.au/whats-on/colleen-mcculloughs-tim

Tickets: https://mpv.tickets.com/schedule/?agency=GLENSTREETPV_MPV&orgid=49089&_ga=2.101367169.1677208017.1687490619-2029570456.1687490619#/?event=colleen+mccullough&view=list&includePackages=false

Show times

Thu 27 July 7.30pm; Fri 28 July 8pm; Sat 29 July 2pm + 8pm; Sun 30 July 1pm + 5pm

A scene from the 1979 film ‘Tim’.

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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