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Interview with Kate Mulvany


The Seed, based on Kate’s family story, was awarded the 2007 Sydney Theatre Awards for Best Independent Production.

We asked Kate about how the play developed, how it feels to share your family history on stage and what she is up to next.


How did you celebrate receiving a Sydney Theatre Award for The Seed?

By kissing our producer Sam Hawker as much as I could and rather tenderly throwing myself straight back into rehearsals the next day for the Belvoir remount.

How did you get into playwriting?

As a child I’d change the endings of my Little Golden Books. Years later I studied under Elizabeth Jolley who was probably the best mentor any young female writer could have.

The Seed is based on autobiographical material – what inspired you to write about your family?

My love for my parents. My concern for Australian soldiers and their families’ welfare. The horrifying realisation my government was allowing history to repeat itself all over again.

You had originally planned to write a novel about your family history – how come you ended up writing a play instead?

My laptop got stolen 100 pages into the novel. It felt like my heart had been ripped straight from my chest. I didn’t dare go near the story again until I felt strong enough…and had learnt to back things up…

What is the difference between writing a novel and writing for the stage?

The novel allows me to escape into my own imagination. The stage allows me the same, but to take a whole audience with me, live, every night.

What is it like to share stories from your own family with an audience? And how did your family react when they saw their story on stage?

It took a lot of encouragement before I could tell this story – for years Vietnam Veterans and their families have been discouraged from opening up. Fortunately, my family gave me their blessing and with that, I set off on the journey. To have audience after audience react so passionately to our untold family story was a revelation. My family were bemused but encouraged by the overwhelming response. The night they came to see the show – with 15 Vietnam Veterans in tow – was without doubt my favourite night ever onstage. Terrifying, electric, cathartic and raw.

After a very successful first season Downstairs, The Seed has moved to the Upstairs Theatre at Belvoir Street. You play the role of Rose - what is it like to perform in your own play?

Bizarre! I’ve never done it before. It doesn’t stop me from cursing “the writer” as much as possible, and vice versa! Fortunately, in the end, I think it’s made me more sensitive to both crafts. They nourish each other beautifully.

What is the best thing about doing an autobiographical work? What is the hardest thing?

The worst thing was having to ask my parents some very deep and dark questions. The best thing – having them answer them so truthfully and humorously and as a result, inspiring me to do it all justice in my work.

The Danger Age is premiering at La Boite theatre at the end of February - tell us what the play is about.

Whereas The Seed deals with the effects of war on returned soldiers and the descendents of warfare, The Danger Age deals with the immediate effect of war on the child. Set in the Second World War, it is the story of a young boy in Kalbarri in Western Australia who happens to be called John Curtin. Through a case of mistaken identity, he becomes privy to the defence strategies of General Douglas Macarthur and as a result becomes embroiled in the politics of war. The play delves into the notion of what it is to be a hero, a leader, and how one naive, innocent, but motivated ten-year-old boy can indeed change the world.

What are you currently working on?

A new play for Hothouse Theatre and Black Swan Theatre called The Web and another for Bell Shakespeare. Neither of them about war!

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