Arts / Stephanie steps up to a big role

Stephanie MacLaine, who plays Cosette… “A young girl who has suppressed her difficult past and who’s very vulnerable to love at first sight.” Photo by Janelle McMenamin

Stephanie MacLaine, who plays Cosette… “A young girl who has suppressed her difficult past and who’s very vulnerable to love at first sight.” Photo by Janelle McMenamin

WHEN 16-year-old Stephanie MacLaine steps on stage soon to play Cosette in Free Rain Theatre’s production of “Les Miserables”, she’ll be stepping into a very different world from the one she knows.

Free Rain is making much of the fact that her age is much the same as that of Victor Hugo’s young romantic heroine around the time she meets her love interest, Marius, but with that, the similarities disappear.

For Cosette, though convent-educated by her adoptive father Jean Valjean to become a fine young lady, is a survivor of psychological and physical torture and has much in her past to hide.

MacLaine, by contrast, is a year 11 student at Canberra Girls Grammar School and is looking forward to a bright future with her eyes firmly set on an operatic singing course at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Since 2007 she’s been studying classical voice with one of Canberra’s best-known and most exacting singing teachers, Theresa Rayner, who has encouraged her to study piano to a high level in preparation for a future career.

The wardrobe ladies at Cook Community Hub attest to MacLaine’s glorious voice, which they hear wafting down from the rehearsal room as they create a magnificent wedding dress for her to wear. But she counts herself lucky, since last year she was stricken by glandular fever and was worried she might not impress.

“Luckily, I got it,” she says of her coveted role as Cosette.

MacLaine is plainly impressed by the credentials of her co-stars, Peter Cousens playing the central character of Jean Valjean and recent VCA graduate Sam Ward playing Marius, but she is no theatrical novice, having played Erica in the Girls Grammar School’s production of “Hating Alison Ashley” and a role during 2015 in Marist College’s “Buddy.”

After “Les Mis” she’ll be playing the prize role of Miss Hannigan in her school’s production of “Annie”.

But this is the first really major role she’s had on the main stage and she’s been keen to plan well.

Her self-devised approach to preparing has been to look at how different actresses have performed the role of Cosette. As well, as she says: “I’ve been getting a lot of background training simply by working with Pete and Sam.”

She has been imagining what would have happened in the years since Cosette was a little girl found neglected and wandering in the forest by Valjean on a cold Christmas Eve.

“She’s grown up in a convent and educated to be a lady after being subjected to horrendous abuse as a small child before she is rescued, but around 10 years have gone by and she has forgotten all of those people,” MacLaine says.

But has she? It seems scarcely credible that she can’t remember even the Thernadiers’ daughter Eponine when they meet again in Paris. MacLaine speculates that after Valjean rescues and reclaims Cosette with his humanity and goodness, that she suppresses the memory of unpleasant times.

Whatever the reason, she’s a sitting duck for a romantic relationship with the young aristocrat Marius.

“She is really a young girl who has suppressed her difficult past and who’s very vulnerable to love at first sight,” MacLaine says.

“Les Miserables”, The Q – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, April 4-22. Bookings to theq.net.au or 6285 6290.

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