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BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER

MY BRILLIANT CAREER

BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER

Tuesday 15th December 2020, 6:30pm, Belvoir St Theatre

Kate Champion's (Director) presentation of Kendall Feaver's adaptation of Miles Franklin's MY BRILLIANT CAREER proves that the Australian classic still holds a relevance in the 21st century. Powerfully led by Nikki Shiels' presentation of protagonist Sybylla Melvyn, Franklin's feminist rebellion against society's expectations of women is heard loud and clear across the century since the story from the "little bush girl", as Henry Lawson described Franklin, was first published in 1901.

BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER
Blazey Best as Lucy Bossier Melvyn, Nikki Shiels as Sybylla Melvyn, Jason Chong as Richard Melvyn, Emma Harvie as Gertie Melvyn and Tom Conroy as Horace Melvyn (Photo: Brett Boardman)

MY BRILLIANT CAREER, which Franklin eventually admitted to being a thinly-veiled autobiography, centers on the life of Sybylla Penelope Melvyn, a teenager from country 1890's New South Wales. While women of Sybylla's generation, and the preceding generations, were expected to find suitable husbands and become mothers, Sybylla had greater ambitions for her life. Following a childhood filled with helping her farmer father (Jason Chong), a man who had supported her tomboy behaviors, reading stories of real people, and imagining fabulous adventures with her childhood friend, she had grown up to decide that she did not want a life like her mother Lucy Bossier Melvyn (Blazey Best) who was perpetually popping out babies and dealing with what drought had done to her husband, Sybylla's once perfect father. Through Sybylla's narration, the young woman's rail against convention and the roadblocks she meets in her quest for something bigger and better for herself are laid out with a vibrant expression of pre-federation rural Australia.

BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER
Jason Chong as Uncle Jay Jay and Nikki Shiels as Sybylla (Photo: Brett Boardman)

Set and costume designer Robert Cousins keeps the set relatively simple, allowing the storytelling to be the focus of the work but there are a number of delightful surprises in the design. An anchored rope serves as a lame cow being urged to stand, a white curtain and a full-length mirror transform the space to Sybylla's Grandma Bossier's (Tracy Mann) more established homestead on the successful Caddagat farm, and an ever-present upright piano transforms its role in the story, from unused indulgence for which Lucy has no time, to a focal point of Grandma Bossier's home and the out of tune link to inspiring troublesome charges to finally want to learn. Costuming conveys links to respectability with Sybylla's family donning expressions of the style of the age as a symbol of the one step connection away from the respectability of Lucy's mother, Grandma Bossier and her brother (Chong) and sister (Best) who still reside at Caddagat. Caddagat's manager Frank Hawden (Tom Conroy and wealthy farm owner Harold Beecham (Guy Simon) similarly sport refined fashions of the time while the feral McSwat family to which Sybylla is sent to be governess and housekeeper are all attired in contemporary clothes, ensuring they are seen as socially a world apart from the Bossier's.

BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER
Nikki Shiels as Sybylla (Photo: Brett Boardman)

Nikki Shiels is brilliant as Sybylla. She brings a beautiful power and charm to the character that connects with the audience with a conspiratorial glee as Sybylla breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. Shiels balances the honest and forthright expression with humor and charisma to ensure that if you werent sympathetic to Sybylla's feelings on the constraints imposed by her birth, you would definitely be more supportive of her feminist feelings by the end of the story. Shiels expresses the movement that Champion has incorporated into the direction with an ease that exudes Sybylla's vitality and forms a physical expression of the speed and agility of the young woman's mind.

BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER
Guy Simon as Harold Beecham (Photo: Brett Boardman)

As the man that captures Sybylla's heart, as much as she tries to deny it and also disbelieve that he could return the affection, Guy Simon is wonderful as Harold Beecham, the wealthy young owner of Five-Bob Downs. Simon ensures while Beecham and Frank Hawden are both well-dressed respectable young men, Beecham is everything that Hawden is not in terms of character and understanding of Sybylla's true nature and passions. He expresses a gentleness in Beecham's nature along with the underlying fire and respect for her as more than just a girl that captured Sybylla's interest.

BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER
Nikki Shiels as Sybylla and Tom Conroy as Frank Hawden (Photo: Brett Boardman)

Emma Harvie takes on the other young women of the story, from Gertie, Sybylla's younger sister, Blanche Derrick, the apparent rival for Beecham's affections and Lizer McSwat, one of the obnoxious feral children Sybylla is sent to educate. Harvie ensures that her expression of these three girls are all distinct while also being complete contrasts to Sybylla. Gertie is presented with a wide-eyed sweet innocence; Blanche is worldly and somewhat pretentious and Lizer is rough and loathsome while recognizable as the bratty child that has never been told no. Tracy Mann presents Sybylla's wealthy and connected Grandma Bossier and Beecham's kindly and mischievous Aunt Gussie. For Grandma, conveys a gravitas of wealth and power in the community while Aunt Gussie is presented with a kinder nature that understands more of the realities of life away from the demands of social convention.

BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER
Blazey Best as Aunt Helen, Tom Conroy as Frank Hawden, Tracy Mann as Grandma Bossier and Nikki Shiels as Sybylla (Photo: Brett Boardman)

This adaptation of MY BRILLIANT CAREER tells the story of an old-world Australia with a balance of old-world styling and contemporary expression so that the past can speak clearly to the present to reinforce how far society has come and how far it still has to go in terms of society's expectations of women and the constraints that they face simply because they were born female.

https://belvoir.com.au/productions/my-brilliant-career/

Photos: Brett Boardman

BWW REVIEW: The Feisty Fiery Tale From Australia's Early Feminist Writer Miles Franklin Comes To Live With Fabulous Passion With A New Adaptation Of MY BRILLIANT CAREER
Nikki Shiels as Sybylla Penelope Melvyn (Photo: Brett Boardman)

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