It's Friday afternoon and in the St John's Church hall in Ponsonby, the sun pours through the windows and light shines on books piled on tables, chairs and the floor. They're not waiting to be sold in a church fundraising sale, but to be moved to the PumpHouse Theatre in Takapuna as props in an updated version of Roger Hall's 1999 play, The Book Club.

The hall transformed into a rehearsal space, actress Jodie Dorday stands among them. She's focused on a script and acknowledges there are a lot of books but even more lines to learn when you sign up to be the one-woman performer in a play about a book club.
At least that's what it says about; there's more to it than that.

Dorday plays self-confessed book-a-holic Deb, an empty-nester with a distracted husband and time on her hands. To relieve the boredom and loneliness, she joins a book club and all goes well until a local author arrives and turns Deb's life upside down.

"It's a great premise and setting for a play because all it allows for all these disparate female characters, who would not normally have anything to do with one another, to be brought together and, of course, they might have read the same book but they all have different takes on it," says Dorday.


The role is a world away from what she's used to playing.

After a starring role in the musical Billy Elliot, Dorday returned to New Zealand TV screens in Westside last year, playing the tough-talking dairy-owning Trish Miller who's mother to Cheryl — the teen version of Cheryl West, a Kiwi icon thanks to Robyn Malcolm who played the adult character in six seasons of Outrageous Fortune.

Dorday, mother to a 5-year-old son, says she hasn't played many "privileged" characters in circumstances so far removed from her own life. But it's not only Deb she plays; there's all the other women in the book club to portray plus Deb's husband and love interest.

As the only daughter of Debbie Dorday, one of NZ's best-known entertainers, she was a dancer before moving into theatre and film with one of her first roles in Hall's Take a Chance on Me, about a group of singles looking for love.

Janice Finn directed her in that play and says seeing Dorday back in Auckland — she's been living in Australia and Bali for several years — put her mind for the sole performer in The Book Club. Dorday didn't hesitate to accept when offered the part, saying she'd been reflecting on how good it would be to perform a one-person play.

"I said yes in an instant! Then I started to think about it and thought, 'gosh, it is quite a big thing to do' especially when my mum said, 'oh, that's brave — I'm not sure I could do that!' But I like to push myself; I've done it my whole career and if I wasn't up for a challenge then I would have walked away from this industry 30 years ago."

What: The Book Club
Where & when: PumpHouse Theatre; tonight — until Sunday, May 20