Reawakening Girl Asleep

Four years after Girl Asleep saw Windmill Theatre Co make the leap to the big screen, director Rosemary Myers is bringing this dark, whimsical fable of girlhood and puberty back to where it all began.

“Often what happens is we premiere our work here, because it’s our hometown and most significant audience,” Windmill Theatre Co artistic director Rosemary Myers tells The Adelaide Review. “But the nature of making new work, which is what Windmill does, is that you refine the shows along the way.

“When we first premiered in 2014 it was part of the Adelaide Festival… so it was quite a short run here in Adelaide. Then we took it to Belvoir and ran it for a month there in December 2016, and in that process we tightened the show up a lot.”

A colourful, hormone-fuelled blend of Wes Anderson, The Mighty Boosh and Countdown-era Australia, it has been years since Girl Asleep the play or Myers’ 2015 film adaptation graced a local stage or cinema screen. All the while, the work has enjoyed a long and varied life through international releases, online streaming and school curricula – the latter assisted by a wealth of online learning resources that Windmill produced alongside the film.

Girl Asleep, retitled Fantastic Birthday in France, has been embraced by local and international audiences alike

“It’s been on American Netflix, it ran for three months in France, it’s been all over the place,” Myers says of the film. “Someone said to me ‘I saw your movie the other night’ – the ABC have it in rotation. I didn’t even know it was on! It just kind of lives on in that medium and you don’t even know where, but now so many students are studying it in school and that’s also really exciting.”

The 2019 revival retains much of the much of the original play’s cast and creative team in Ellen Steele (The Club), Matthew Whittet (who wrote and starred in both play and film) and Amber McMahon (who also appeared in the film), alongside Sheridan Harbridge (who joined the 2016 Belvoir run) and State Theatre Company and Windmill regular Antoine Jelk, who steps in for Eamon Farren who went straight from the set of Girl Asleep to a key role in David Lynch’s 2017 Twin Peaks revival.

Returning cast members Ellen Steele, Amber McMahon and Matthew Whittet will be joined by Antoine Jelk and Sheridan Harbridge for the 2019 season (Photo: Sia Duff)
Returning cast members Ellen Steele, Amber McMahon and Matthew Whittet will be joined by Antoine Jelk (front) and Sheridan Harbridge (right) for the 2019 season (Photo: Sia Duff / Windmill Theatre  Co)

“It’s been an interesting process; the first iteration was the play and that taught us so much about the film because we had an opportunity to road test the story with an audience, which is something you don’t really get in film,” Myers says. “The style of it is very different; we only have five actors in the play, and there’s a bit of a different language at play compared to the film. But the journey of the character is still fundamentally the same.”

For Myers and Windmill the original production and its transition to film remains a watershed moment, and Windmill Pictures, the cinematic offshoot it spawned, remains a going concern with three more screen projects in various stages of production.

“It meant a lot for me as an artist and for lot of the artists that worked on the show,” she says. “We are fundamentally theatre makers, but we consider ourselves first and foremost storytellers. It was amazing to get to work in a new medium like that and it was so exciting for all of us – we were on a high for the entire process, to be honest. It was intense, and it was long hours, but we were beside ourselves with the fun of it all and the opportunity.”

Movement consultant Gabrielle Nankivell works through disco choreography with Myers and the 2019 cast (Photo: Sia Duff)
Movement consultant Gabrielle Nankivell works through disco choreography with Myers and the 2019 cast (Photo: Sia Duff / Windmill Theatre Co)

As the state government continues to push investment in local film production, even as arts funding across the board shrinks, it’s clear that the big screen remains firmly in Windmill’s sights even as it continues to remain grounded in the world of theatre.

“We’re playing in the real world now – we were so lucky to make that movie,” she says. “Now we have to take our ideas up through development channels and it’s a really intense process, but we’re learning all the time and we’d love to be able to generate more activity in that medium. We’re really trying to position ourselves as a model of convergence for the two forms – I hope we can do it!”

As for the stage version that started it all? “It’s a really fun play, really theatrical and very, very playful, as is all of our work. We’re a tight group of makers with Jonathan [Oxlade], Matt [Whittet], Amber [McMahon] and myself, so we love getting to hang out and entertain each other, which is part of how we make the work. So we’re really happy to be back with the show – we’re actually finding more things in there all the time.

“It’s great to share it with our home crowd.”

Girl Asleep
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
September 12 – 20
windmill.org.au

Header image:
Sia Duff / Windmill Theatre Co

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