Deborah Mailman has been one of Australia’s most beloved actors for a couple of decades now, despite managing to look twenty only recently in the Sapphires. She is perhaps most widely known because of her television work, such as in multiple seasons of the ABC comedy/drama the Secret Life of Us. However she has a much broader history of attention from theatregoers. She is still remembered as one of Australia’s most celebrated Rosalinds, in Belvoir Street Theatre’s production of As You Like It, back in 1999. Her long relationship with Belvoir also included Aliwa and a long and adored tour of Small Poppies.
Let’s face it, Australia’s history of the representation of Aboriginal characters on television mostly sucks. There have been few chances for Indigenous performers to either tell their own stories, or to simply be characters, without their race being integral to the functioning of the storyline. There have been a few great films based on the experiences of Aboriginal people, which get critical attention, but are rarely treated as mainstream. Somehow Mailman has always managed to be the person who can perform in any context and be convincing and moving, present as Aboriginal without being constrained to represent everybody’s generic idea of what an Aboriginal woman is.
Personally, I remember particularly Mailman’s solo performance in Seven Stages of Grieving, put together with director Wesley Enoch. The play explored the kind of grief experienced by everyone when they lose a loved one, but also the particular shades of experience distinct to Australia’s first people, who have so much collectively to grieve about, spoken with a directness and simplicity that made it a unique experience in the theatre. Never having had the opportunity to ask her if this is so, this production made me think that the theatre is Mailman’s natural home as a performer. I look forward to following the full career arc of an artist of such stature.
Categories: arts & entertainment