Convicted criminal, underworld matriarch and alcoholic mother-of-three are just some of the hard-hitting roles that Australian actress Kris McQuade has under her belt.
In Maggie Stone, a new work commissioned by the State Theatre Company of SA, McQuade embarks on the role of her latest formidable female. Written by award-winning local playwright Caleb Lewis (Nailed, Clinchfield), the play follows loans officer Maggie, a self-described “hard-hearted bitch” with a sardonic sense of humour and little sympathy for those less fortunate. “She’s a prickly person, she’s a loner; she doesn’t like owing anyone anything, be it emotionally or physically,” McQuade says of her character. “She likes to be independent, so it’s about her dealing with that as the story unfolds. It’s about her learning to maybe change and allow other people into her life.” With an long history of strong female roles – her most recent in the hugely popular Wentworth– one cannot help but wonder if McQuade is really as tough as her on-stage characters. “It’s a bit scary when you start identifying. Caleb said he had me in mind when he wrote [Maggie Stone] so I’m not sure what that meant,” she laughs. “With every role I can tap into something within me. That’s part of being an actor, there’s a bit of you in everything and a bit of everything in you. But for Maggie it’s about learning to trust and learning to face being rejected, and I guess we’ve all got a bit of that in us in different forms.” The play deals with loneliness, debt, individualism and community, and draws on Australia’s growing multiculturalism and the monoculture of Adelaide in past decades. After being approached for the lead role by State Theatre’s Artistic Director, Geordie Brookman, McQuade read the script and was immediately impressed. “It’s quite naturalistic – it has very fast dialogue, a lot of one-liners. It’s got quite a bit of pace to it and once we get into the play it moves and builds momentum and it’s a bit of a thriller in a way. It’s a good contemporary piece, I think it’s really poignant and hopefully it has legs and can go beyond Adelaide.” For McQuade, the opportunity to take part in a new Australian work is always a positive one. “My body of work over 40 years has always been new Australian works where I get to create the character; I don’t have to do another version of someone else’s interpretation. I always like to be the first at a character.” McQuade has performed regularly at the Adelaide Festival in past years, and returned to work on When the Rain Stops Falling with Brink Productions between 2008 and 2010, but this is the first time she has worked with the State Theatre Company. “It’s very exciting to be working with Geordie,” she says. “He’s one of the new young talents that are now running all the theatre companies in Australia. I try to work with as many of the younger directors as possible to keep my career going and see what their new ideas are. It’s important for me, having been around for a long time.” With a career spanning 40 years, McQuade has worked all over Australia and internationally, across the platforms of film, television and theatre. When asked how theatre compares with working on-screen, McQuade says the two media are very different. “I like the theatre process where you get to grow into the character and grow into the lines over that rehearsal period. You don’t get that luxury with television. The main thing when you’re doing eight shows a week is finding something fresh every time you play the character. That’s what makes theatre exciting, it’s one of the few live things left on this planet. People say it’s a dying art form but I think that’s why people go, because it is there, live in front of you and anything could happen.” Maggie Stone Space Theatre, Festival Centre Friday, November 8 to Saturday, November 30 statetheatrecompany.com.au