Go-to Ursula is planning to go

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Ursula Yovich… “I’m not afraid to speak up now, but when I was an 18-year-old with my mum coming from the Maningrida community and dad a Bosnian Serb, I was a shy thing.” Photo: Brett Boardman

URSULA Yovich has been the go-to actress for the past two decades when directors are looking for a strong, mature indigenous performer.

Originally from Darwin, she’s become a household name down south; unforgettably as the archetypal female figure, Dulla Djin, in “The Secret River” and most recently as the eccentric mother in Miranda Tapsell’s rom-com movie, “Top End Wedding”.

But Yovich has had enough and as she prepares for a Brisbane season of the play “Barbara and the Camp Dogs”, coming soon to The Playhouse, she tells “CityNews” she wants out.

The play has been a huge hit, the co-creation of Yovich, Alana Valentine and composer Adam Ventura, well-known here for his work with Ql2 Dance. Full of solid rock songs and tuneful ballads it was a sleeper for Belvoir Theatre in 2017 and is now on tour, with the current run finishing soon in Wollongong.

Starring Yovich herself as the outspoken Barbara, leader of a rock band called The Camp Dogs, it becomes a kind of road movie when she and her sister and band member René (played by Elaine Crombie) learn that their mum in Katherine is seriously ill. They set off on a motorbike adventure from Sydney to Darwin and onwards, where the home truths come out.

It’s been billed as “part madcap buddy comedy, part electrifying rock gig”, but Yovich is adamant that it is not a musical saying: “I’m not a fan of musicals, although there are as many songs in this play as in a musical – it’s a theatre piece”.

“It’s a pretty simple set up… we are recreating an old pub with pub carpet and a ‘stage on a stage’ for the band,” she says, adding that there will be a limited number of seats for audience members who want to sit on the stage for atmosphere – “people who love loud music”.
She’s got a great character to play.

“Barbara is a manager and she’s like a lot of women I’ve known from family and friends, but she always wants to let her hair down,” she says.

“She’s very strong and fast. She’s in charge of her own destiny but she makes a lot of mistakes, even so there’s something really charming about her.”

In the classical manner, the action begins in the middle of the story when the girls, living in Sydney, hear about their mum, but the real centre of the play is a journey.

“In Sydney they don’t have a sense of who they are… I wanted them to be urban, black girls who have to find themselves,” she says.

She’s been on the road performing and singing since February. Enough’s enough.

“I’m probably going to be stepping away from theatre after 22 years,” Yovich says.

“It’s been enough for me, it’s exhausting physically and emotionally.

“I’ll never say I won’t come back, but I’m moving away from it indefinitely.

“I’d love to do workshops in communities. I know how much theatre and the arts have given me as far as my confidence goes; I’m not afraid to speak up now, but when I was an 18-year-old with my mum coming from the Maningrida community and dad a Bosnian Serb, I was a shy thing.”

When it comes to performance, she says, some traditional communities emphasise the concept of shame, but to her, “you can be humble but you don’t have to be shamed”.
Having grown up in the NT, she’s also homesick.

“I miss that kind of wild and free life,” she says.

“I look at my daughter, she just stays in the house because you can’t hang out in Sydney the way you could in Darwin. I miss that, children in Sydney probably miss out.”

“Barbara and the Camp Dogs”, The Playhouse, May 30-June 1. Book at canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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Helen Musa
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