Mayhem, magic and marriage in rom-com tale from Shakespeare

Two Upper Mountains actors will be firing on all cylinders tonight for the opening of Bell Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at Sydney Opera House Playhouse.

Accomplished theatre, television and film actors Helen Thomson and Michelle Doake have been in intense rehearsals for the past six weeks for the play which journeys from family drama to sexual jealousy and is brimming with mayhem, magic, redemption and a marriage.

Thomson’s primary role is playing Hermione, the pregnant wife of King Leontes, who, consumed by jealousy, wrongly accuses her of adultery before imprisoning her. Then, when his daughter is born, Leontes mistakenly believes the baby is not his own, and orders her to be abandoned into the wild. 

With two children under the age of 10, Thomson can empathise with the incredible pain of losing a child.

“It’s very close to the surface; as a mother that’s intrinsic,” Thomson said.

“Bringing up difficult emotions is part of the job description. I’m good at bringing up big emotions when I need to and then moving on.”

To move on, she has learned she needs sufficient rest to recover from the exhaustion of the emotion.

A support for Thomson in the play and in real life is long-time friend Michelle Doake.

Doake’s primary role is as Hermione’s friend, the courageous, outspoken Paulina, who will protect her, whatever it takes.

“The two characters are dear friends, and hopefully our friendship will carry onto stage and people can see the affection we have for each other,” Thomson said.

The actors met on a production in Queensland in the late 90s, and have remained in each other’s lives ever since.

It was Thomson who convinced Doake to make the move from Sydney to the Mountains just recently for a “tree change’’.

Doake and her husband and two girls are renting in Katoomba while they renovate a home they bought in Wentworth Falls just six weeks ago.

Doake hasn’t looked back, enjoying “the green”, and although she’s found the commute tiring after a 10-hour working day, it’s been great to pass the time with her friend as well as brush-up on lines.

Doake has had an advantage in learning the lines to The Winter’s Tale. About 17 years ago she played the juvenile lead Perdita in the play, and met her husband to be, actor David Hynes.

To then return to the same play as a 40-year-old has been a really exciting experience, Doake said.

“I know the play, it’s in my bones,” she said.

“I loved playing it [Perdita]. I couldn’t approach the play [then] with the intellectual rigour and the life experience as I do now.”

The duo hope people will make the trek down from the Mountains to see the show.

“It’s a magical story and has a happy ending - it’s like a soap opera with lots of love and lots of heart. It’s a beautiful play if you haven’t seen the play before,” Doake said.

The Winter’s Tale opens at Sydney Opera House Playhouse tonight and runs until March 29. Book at sydneyoperahouse.com or call 9250 7777.

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