RUMOURS of veteran actor Noeline Brown’s retirement have been much exaggerated.
Although living with her husband at Mount Murray with breathtaking views of the ocean, the former TV star of shows such as “The Mavis Bramston Show” and “Blankety Blanks” has maintained a high touring profile and will be here next month in a favourite part.
“This is a particularly nice one, because it’s ‘Mother and Son’ on stage,” she tells me. She plays Maggie Beare, the role made famous on TV by the late Ruth Cracknell.
Ironically, given that Maggie is one of Australia’s most iconic senior citizens, Brown has – since 2008 – been Australia’s first ambassador for ageing for the Federal Government, of which she says: “I’ve been on the road in that too, but I’m not going to be replaced”.
She’s been visiting people doing extraordinary things in their senior years and, while aware that Australia may have turned ageist in recent years, she’s been busy reminding people that “retirement doesn’t mean you’re finished, it means you have another opportunity.”
In her ambassadorial role she’s been immensely impressed by the many people who belong to special interest groups such as U3A (University of the Third Age). “They’re not just sitting on the porch waiting for the sun to go down.”
When she was younger, she, like many, thought that anybody over 50 was past it, “but actually when you’re 50, you’re in your prime… the only way you can change perceptions is by example.”
She’s also been noticing that couples now use grandparents to look after their children, as in traditional societies of Asia, so married couples now “realise the importance of older people”.
But you wouldn’t want Maggie looking after your kids, I suggest.
“Maggie Beare hasn’t lost her marbles in my view,” Brown says firmly, “Maggie’s bored witless, she’s got no friends, she’s just got poor Arthur and she can’t wait for him to get home so she can get at him.”
Brown is adamant that Maggie is not a case study of Alzheimer’s.
“I know the author, Geoffrey Atherden, does not want that to be the case… it is a story about families, about how they work and how they don’t,” she says.
Brown speculates that if Maggie had joined U3A she would have been out and about.
“She is a person of my age, in her 70s, and she stayed at home after her husband died,” Noeline says.
“She’s very manipulative and very, very naughty – a very bright woman and she knows how to wind Arthur up.”
And her seemingly ridiculous attachment to Robbie the dentist son, played by Rob Carlton, (Kerry Packer on TV) might well be a case of deliberately winding Arthur up. Mind you, Brown has often heard mothers say: “Here he comes, my favourite son… she adores Robbie, he can do no wrong… the bad one is the one parents adore”.
What we’ll be seeing is a stage play reworked by Atherden, with an opportunity to explore family relationships a bit more.
Maggie, in this version, faces technological problems not seen in the TV series. She loses her remote control, has to work out how to use a mobile phone and is dependent on Arthur to set up a Skype meeting with relatives.
And Arthur has a girlfriend, played by ARIA Award-winning singer-actress Rachael Beck.
And does she ever feel she might be turning into Maggie? Well, she did rehearse the role with a broken femur acquired while climbing to Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art.
With nothing but praise for her fellow actors, she singles out Darren Gilshenan as Arthur, loved by Canberra audiences for his 17 roles with Bell Shakespeare and by the TV public as Terry Moody.
“He runs the show in my view,” she asserts. Maybe so, I say, but isn’t Maggie the one the audiences love?
“Yes, I’m on the stage the entire time, so if they don’t like me, don’t come,” Brown advises.
“Mother and Son”, Canberra Theatre, February 4-7, bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.