Mount Eliza born author and playwright Joanna Murray-Smith is one of Australia’s most successful playwrights. Her plays have been staged around the world from London’s West End to Broadway and home again. She’s also written three novels, a libretto and several screenplays garnering numerous prestigious literary and theatre awards. This prolific Melbourne-based writer shows no signs of slowing down completing new works while previous plays remain in steady production. I had the privilege of interviewing Murray-Smith before Bombshells hits the Shirley Burke Theatre in Parkdale.

PEARL: How did growing up in Mount Eliza influence you as a writer?

MURRAY-SMITH: What influenced me predominantly was the life my parents lived in Mt. Eliza. They were deep thinkers and very engaged with issues of social justice. Our house was full of the life of ideas, a very stimulating environment. I associate Mt. Eliza with the house and garden where I grew up always full of interesting Australian thinkers.

PEARL: Why did you choose writing plays over writing novels?

MURRAY-SMITH: I started as a playwright at Melbourne University and then I segued off and wrote a few books, but in between the novels, I was writing plays. It came most easily to me, was the most addictive to me, but also most practical in terms of having kids because I could write plays very fast, but I couldn’t write prose fast. (She and Daily Review editor husband, Raymond Gill have two sons 19 and 13 and a daughter 10.) If I had my druthers I would be a novelist, but looking back I realize that one of the great benefits about being a playwright is that I’ve met so many great people. Actors and directors are fascinating creatures. That whole process of blending your own imaginative life and the imaginative life and talents of other people is actually very expansive and interesting.

PEARL: You have written some fantastic roles for women providing brilliant acting opportunities. Have you seen a shift in prospects for Australian actresses since you started writing?

MURRAY-SMITH: Not so much for actresses because playwrights have always written great roles for women, but I’ve seen many more women writers, directors and designers. A big part of that was because theatre companies were called upon to explain why they hadn’t provided work for women in those disciplines. They had to jump to it and start nurturing women to take on those roles.

PEARL: What is the ultimate goal of a playwright as opposed to other literary forms?

MURRAY-SMITH: You have to connect with your audience in order for them to receive what you have made. If you lose them or fail to engage them, the spell is broken and it’s very, very hard to get them back. It’s a more immediate medium. When you’re composing words for a novel, you are in complete control of that artistic work, but with a play, you’re not in control of it because it is such a collaborative medium. One cast can be a brilliant and make up for all of your inadequacies as a writer and make it fly — or if it is miscast, the same script can die a thousand deaths. When you write a poem or a novel, it stays the same for the duration of its life. A play never stays the same. It’s different from production to production and often from show to show.

PEARL: Bombshells will be playing regionally. What would you like the audience to take away from this play?

MURRAY-SMITH: I’d like them to take away the brilliance of actress Christen O’Leary who plays all the parts. I hope they enjoy the humour of women’s predicaments and the way in which human beings struggle with how they present themselves to the world as opposed to who they really are.

PEARL: What’s next for you?

MURRAY-SMITH: I’m right now in rehearsals for Pennsylvania Avenue opening at the Melbourne Theatre Company in November. It’s a new role for Bernadette Robinson (Songs for Nobodies) taking her amazing ability with voices except she plays one nobody instead of five. It’s about an underling at the White House who works in the entertainment division through eight administrations and the singers that she interacts with in her work. I have a new play opening at the Sydney Theatre Company at the same time called Switzerland. It’s about the American writer Patricia Highsmith who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley.

See six incredibly different women on the brink in Bombshells at Shirley Burke Theatre, Parkdale on Monday, October 13 at 8 pm and Tuesday, October 14 at 2 pm. Bookings on 9556 4440 or www.kingstonarts.com.au.

ANDREA LOUISE THOMAS