World a stage for homegrown Masterton actor

By nathan.crombie@age.co.nz -
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The poster for A Slightly Isolated Dog's production Jekyll & Hyde, which reveals the many facets of darkness and desire. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
The poster for A Slightly Isolated Dog's production Jekyll & Hyde, which reveals the many facets of darkness and desire. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Award-nominated actor Susie Berry stays closer than most to grease paint, limelight and the roar of the crowds, and is today only a preview performance away from yet another opening night in the capital city.

The St Matthew's Collegiate old girl, 26, has for the second consecutive year since graduating from Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School, landed a role in A Slightly Isolated Dog production - Jekyll & Hyde - which runs at Circa Theatre in Wellington from March 19 to April 16. The preview performance will be held at the venue on March 18.

Wellington actor and St Matthew's Collegiate old girl Susie Berry. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Wellington actor and St Matthew's Collegiate old girl Susie Berry. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

"Rehearsals are going really well and they're very, very fun. I almost cry with laughter every day but we're working really hard as well, so it's a good balance. Keeps us on our toes."

Berry last year played Lily in the critically-acclaimed and audience lauded reworking of the Moliere tale, Don Juan, from A Slightly Isolated Dog.

She also through the same season captured a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Wellington Theatre Award 2015 for her role the preceding year of Hudson, a "bad-ass" American gun-runner, in Aroha White's 2080.

"I guess I kind of have a ballsy kind of energy. Directors seem to like to put me in that role, and I like playing that role because I'm totally not that. It's always fun to amplify a part of yourself in a way that you wouldn't in everyday life."

Don Juan, which will have another season toward the end of the year at the Q Theatre in Auckland, shares essential themes with Jekyll & Hyde like calculated chaos and judicious splashes of of audience participation, she said.

Berry will reprise, in the upcoming show, her role as Lily, a character who "is kind of camp mother. She reins in the chaos and the bolder characters but is also quite flirty and sensual and has desires of her own that she has to control as well".

"This will be our second go at working in this language but we're just telling a different story. Last year, it was the mythical Casanova that was Don Juan and this year it's the more mysterious Jekyll & Hyde. But it's still very warm and engaging and absolutely provocative.

"When I go to a show, I want to know that what's happening in a room is happening for me, and because of me, and that's what we're really trying to create.

"We reference the classic tales to give us structure and a base to work from but we're asking how are these stories relevant in 2016? How is theatre relevant in 2016? There are those classical elements, but with a decidedly fresh take."

Her stage career essentially began after her ex-pat South African family shifted from Featherston to Masterton. It meant she could take up dance at the Geraldine Inder School of Dance.

"I studied jazz, and a little bit of tap and ballet, and I settled on hip-hop. But I kind of pushed that away and told people I wanted to do other things. Like acting."

While Berry remains the classic triple threat - she is an accomplished singer and still adores hip-hop as a performance art - she acted, sang and danced in school plays and took drama in her final secondary year.

The door to acting as a career, she said, was first opened for her by head of drama at Rathkeale College, Joanne Simpson.

"She was phenomenal and very much a force in the room. She was always passionate about theatre and very clear that it was a discipline and a craft and not some waffly subject you take if you've got some free time. It was something to be respected.

"She is a fantastic actor in her own right and was one of the first people who put it out there for me that acting was something you could pursue seriously."

Berry went on to study English, theatre, and philosophy at Otago University in Dunedin and Victoria University in Wellington before successfully auditioning for Toi Whakaari. She has since completed career highlights including an adaptation of her New Zealand School of Drama performance Go Solo for Bats and The Basement theatres; played Ella in Cassandra Tse's Long Ago, Long Ago and toured nationally with the children's show Maui and the Sun with the Court Theatre.

Today, she works as a make-up artist and an assistant for her theatrical agent, which were jobs "that are different every day, really creative, and get me working with people - all things I truly value".

The Season for Jekyll & Hyde runs at Circa Theatre in Wellington from March 19 to April 16. Tickets cost $35 apiece, matinees $25, and bookings may be made online at circa.co.nz

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