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Playwright Suzanne Hawley – wild at heart

Glen Street Theatre in Belrose is hosting a new play over the first weekend in May – Wild Thing – written by award-winning playwright and author, Suzanne Hawley.

The time-spanning production, which covers separate stages of the central characters’ lives, is described as “a tale of sea eagles and pole dancing, of children and childhood dreams, of religion and rock ‘n roll. Most of all, this is a tale of friendships that have stood the test of time. Until now…”

Manly Observer caught up with Suzanne, who, in addition to wearing multiple hats as a playwright, novelist and screenwriter, has also acted (in two Neil Simon plays among her other credits).

Wilder-ness

The Wild Thing story captures three significant time periods in four women’s lives: the first year of high school, when they met as friends; Swinging London in the 1960s, where they have adventures and mature into adulthood; then the present, when they meet up once a year for a reunion dinner.

“I love writing about women because they’re incredibly complex creatures,” Suzanne asserted, “no offence to men, though!”

Publicity shot for Wild Thing. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

Was Wild Thing drawn from personal experiences that shaped the plot and characters?

“A lot of the things in the play are drawn from experience growing up during that time,” she admitted, suggesting she was a little ‘wild at heart’ in her youth. “And some of the pieces in the play are based on real stories. Di Smith [actress], whom I have known for many years, insists that there is a part of me in all the characters, although I wouldn’t go that far.

“The character of  Elizabeth I can probably relate to most. The language they use as 13 year-olds in the play is all real stuff. We were totally innocent during those years. And when the women are in their twenties, those attitudes and rules that they talk about were all real. We left school at 15, went to work, got married. That’s what was  expected.”

She continued, “The main character, Jackie, however, is fictitious. The story began when a friend said to me some years ago, ‘We have to make a pact – to look after each other in old age.’ We were in our sixties at the time (really young, ha ha!). So I posed the question to myself: ‘What if someone gets sick? What choices do we make about looking after each other? How far do you go for a friend?’ which is the premise of the play.”

Is Wild Thing performed by 12 actresses – three sets of four – to cover the three time zones?

“It’s actually performed by the same four women,” she revealed, “who are incredibly versatile actresses. That’s the wonderful thing about live theatre, you can go back and forth in time without having to tint the screen!

“The play starts when they’re all in school uniform aged 13 and they call themselves The Musketeers, like the famous novel, with three musketeers and one of them is d’Artagnan hoping to join the trio.

“Now they’re in their 60s they meet up annually, but this year things are different as the most radical member of the group, Jackie, is in crisis…”

Playwright Suzanne Hawley, whose play Wild Thing is coming to Glen St Theatre in Belrose. Photo Lisa Tomasetti

Creative endeavours

Suzanne was a little surprised when Manly Observer called. “People don’t often speak to the writers of a production, they usually prefer the actors. Us writers are boring people, unlike those on stage!”

On the contrary, this reporter begs to differ; writers are the imaginators who create and shape a story, whereas the actors and producers are its interpreters.

“I’m not a prolific writer, though,” she admitted humbly, “I don’t understand how some novelists finish a book, then immediately start another.”

Where did she grow up and has it directly influenced her creative writing?

“I grew up without  television which I think was a huge bonus,” she insisted. “Listening to the radio, reading books and imagining characters and places and what they look like and always creating something in your head and playing games and making up stuff.

“I feel sorry for kids today who are glued to Tik Tok and social media. Out of boredom comes creativity (someone famous said that not me!), but it is true. Also, I didn’t start writing till I was about forty, so bought heaps of life experience with me.”

What medium does she prefer, novels, live theatre or writing for film and television?

“I prefer screenwriting. It’s more centred on the dialogue between the characters than descriptions of the settings. You need a basic summary of their surroundings, but you leave the detail to the director and those in charge of the scenery.

“For example, you can say people have entered an old house, but you don’t get caught up with describing whether the house has a leaky roof or is falling apart.”

Heartbreak High (1994-1999), for which Suzanne wrote a number of episodes. Seasons 6-7 were filmed in Warriewood.

Resumé: body surfing and swimming with snakes

Researching Suzanne on the internet reveals all sorts of information published on websites from people who’ve obviously not done their homework. One suggests she also goes by the name Suzanna, another is that she’s a film director.

What we can confirm is that an online bio states:

“A well-known film and television writer, Suzanne has also written plays….

“Her other credits include A Night on the TilesMummy Loves You Betty Anne JewelConcrete Palaces and Hitler Had a Mummy TooConcrete Palaces won the Sydney Theatre Company’s Best Short Play.

It continues, “Suzanne has an AFI for Best Screenplay for Bodysurfer and was nominated for a Best Screenplay Miniseries for Ring Of Scorpio, and Best Feature Screenplay for Wendy Cracked A Walnut. Suzanne is currently adapting her novel Alison Says (Random House) as a television series.”

Suzanne corrects this: “I wasn’t nominated for best screenplay for Wendy Cracked a Walnut. There were two nominations for the film but one was for Rosanna Arquette as best actress and the other was for best music score.”

Wendy Cracked A Walnut, summarised as “an Australian salesman’s bored wife escapes in a fantasy world with her dream lover,” was released in the USA as …Almost, and also starred acclaimed Australian-English actor Hugo Weaving.

Bodysurfer (1989), a two-part ABC drama, was filmed mainly in Patonga and Mooney Mooney.

Screenshot from Bodysurfer (1989), filmed in Patonga, for which Suzanne won an AFI award for Best Screenplay.

Elsewhere, a summary of Suzanne’s writing credits adds:

“Her TV writing credits include HeadlandAll SaintsSomething in the AirHeartbreak HighA Country PracticeLet the Blood Run Free and The Ferals. She also worked as a script editor on A Country Practice for Channel Nine and All Saints and Headlands for Channel Seven.”

Suzanne’s scriptwriting on the 1990s Australian teen TV series Heartbreak High included episodes 29, 45, 82, 93. All seven seasons are currently available to view on Netflix (along with an acclaimed 2022 remake with eight new episodes). The first five seasons were filmed in Maroubra, but seasons six and seven were filmed in Warriewood, which was renamed Hartley Heights.

Furthermore, Suzanne has written three novels, Molly and Brendan: the Untold Story of A Country Practice (1984) a novel adapted from the popular TV series; Alison Says (2005), described as “darkly humorous”; and her latest novel, Swimming With Snakes, which was published on March 28 and is available as a paperback or e-book.

Swimming with Snakes has just been released,” she confirmed, “and is out now on KDP [Kindle Direct Publishing].”

I read it began life with the working title Detour?

“Yes, my publisher recommended a title change to something more in keeping with the story.”

Described by GoodReads as “deftly plotted and atmospheric”, the summary makes for compulsive reading:

“Ellen Mannering, a fifty-three-year-old wife and mother from an affluent Sydney suburb, and Grace Daniels, an eighteen-year-old dancer from the other side of the tracks, become inextricably bound up in each other’s lives after a violent incident.

“Previously unknown to each other, they will travel on a hazardous journey together, taking them north into the untamed wilds of the Queensland hinterland. Out of their comfort zones, they will be stalked by danger, learn what treachery really means and face death…”

Swimming With Snakes, Suzanne’s latest novel, published March 2023, and her previous, Alison Says (2005).

Glen Street Theatre

Corner of Glen Street and Blackbutts Rd, Belrose

Box Office (10am-4pm weekdays) 02 9470 5913

https://glenstreet.com.au/

Wild Thing

Fri 5 May – Sun 7 May 2023

Promo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgo37cpiE3A

Booking

https://glenstreet.com.au/whats-on/wild-thing

Swimming with Snakes novel – digital edition

https://www.amazon.com.au/SWIMMING-SNAKES-women-thrown-survive-ebook/dp/B0BZXMGGDZ/ref=sr_1_5

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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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