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Aussie acting icons come to Karralyka

19 May 2017

Bakersfield Mist

Australian acting legends and former Blue Heelers co-stars John Wood and Julie Nihill are reuniting for a one-night only production of Bakersfield Mist, which makes its Australian debut at the Karralyka on Friday 2 June.

Inspired by true events, the play is a colourful and thought-provoking comedy drama about art and life, and poses the question whether the value of art really is in the eye of the beholder.

Best known for their TV roles as Senior Sergeant Tom Croydon and publican Chris Riley in the long-running Australian police drama Blue Heelers, Wood and Nihill were pleasantly surprised to learn they would be working alongside each other as a two-member cast for the play.

Although having worked together on various other projects, it wasn’t until Wood arrived on set that he realised he would be sharing the stage with his former co-star and long-time friend.

For Nihill, it was just “like picking up where we left off”.

“I didn’t know John was in the show until I got there and saw his name on the call sheet. It doesn’t feel any different (being on stage together) because we’ve known each other for such a long time,” she said.

Gold Logie award-winning actor and writer, Wood is no stranger to the stage, having made his stage debut in an amateur play at the old Ringwood Town Hall in the early 1960s.

But it’s the stage where Wood feels most at home.

“It’s the theatre that you feel most alive as a performer. The instantaneous response (from the audience) is always something wonderful,” Wood says.

Being the only two on stage for Bakersfield Mist also meant there was nowhere to hide.

“There’s really nothing technical and there’s no technical support, apart from lights and sound. We’re not miked, so what you see is what you get,” adds Wood, who is busy rehearsing with Nihill for the play’s opening in three weeks.

Both were immediately drawn to the script, describing it as both “wonderful” and “really funny”, and with ‘’a lot of meaning and themes amidst the laughs”.

While Nihill revisits the role of bartender, this time as Maude – a hard-drinking, chain-smoking down-and-out Californian woman living in a run-down trailer in Bakersfield Mist – the character, she says, is a completely different woman to the Aussie Chris Riley who lived and pulled beers in a French Baroque country pub in Mount Thomas.

For Wood, playing the New York art critic, Lionel Percy, is also worlds apart from the down-to-earth Tom Croydon.

“The big difference for me is that it’s a far cry from Tom Croydon, from a country bumpkin copper to an urbane and highly educated member of the artistic elite. Although he (Lionel Percy) still has feet of clay,” says Wood.

Aside from rehearsing their lines, it’s also having to get the American accent down-pat for the 85-minute duration of the show that’s presenting its own fascinating challenge.

“The interesting thing about language is that she’s (Maude) from the west coast and he’s (Lionel) from the east coast, so the accents are quite different. He’s highly educated and she’s not. There’s a class difference, there’s an accent difference, there’s almost a language barrier in a way,” Wood says.

Nihill has been working on her accent with renowned dialect and voice coach Anna McCrossin-Owen, who’s also currently working with actress Helen Mirren on the film Winchester.

“I’ve never studied the American accent as much as I have for this. I started working on an American accent before I started learning my lines,” she says.

As for the script – “all will be revealed”.

“It’s a really interesting piece and very funny, too. It’s not laugh-out-loud, ‘but I hear ya smiling out there’, says Wood in his best New York drawl.

“Hopefully they will laugh, they will certainly smile.”

Penned by American award-winning stage director and playwright Stephen Sachs, Bakersfield Mist centres around Maude (Nihill), an unemployed bartender who purchases a painting for a few dollars from an op shop. Despite almost tossing it out, she now thinks it’s a Jackson Pollock original and worth millions. In fact, she’s certain of it.

But when world-class art expert Lionel Percy (Wood) flies over from New York to her trailer park home in Bakersfield to authenticate the painting, he really has no idea what he’s about to discover.

Bakersfield Mist makes its Australian debut at Karralyka on June 2 at 8pm.

Pre-theatre dinner tickets include a two-course meal and drink upon arrival. Or be treated like a VIP and indulge in the Red Carpet Experience for an additional small cost.

For tickets or more information, visit Karralyka's website or call 9870 2888.

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