On Tour – Christine Johnston!

July 14, 2017

Do you have a favourite role and/or a favourite stage production?

It’s difficult to choose a favourite role or stage production as I have enjoyed them all for different reasons… and continue to enjoy! If I had to choose one that holds a particularly significant special spot, I would have to say my very first 60-minute piece called DECENT SPINSTER Observations, Interpretations and the Inner Hoon… A performance I concocted back in 1989, which subsequently had seasons through to 2003 in Brisbane QPAC and Powerhouse, Adelaide Cabaret Festival and at the Sydney Opera House.

Why was it so special?

DECENT SPINSTER was special to me as it was a very personal piece that grew from my reminiscing on my own childhood; my ponderings on the sometimes awkwardness of communication; my interpretations of simple observations; the delight I found in highlighting the more ordinary pedestrian side of the human world; my love of old classic cars; and my own ‘inner hoon’. I was pretty shy and this show was my first foray into finding a window for people to view the way I see the funny side of life. This old review I recently found has been able to capture it in words:

Decent Spinster

How does Mad Margaret in the coming production rate in the scheme of things?

Mad Margaret is a principal support role in Opera Queensland’s presentation of Gilbert & Sullivan’s RUDDIGORE, under the magnificent direction of Lindy Hume and her creative team. Up until 2015, when Lindy invited me to be part of OperaQ’s CANDIDE, I was accustomed to devising, writing or co-writing my own shows, so for me the difference with playing the role of Mad Margaret is that she already has her dialogue, songs and storyline written for her by someone else. Mad Margaret’s story and way of thinking is very different to my own… but the exciting challenge is bringing her to life, and I must say I am thoroughly enjoying this process alongside the incredibly fun cast that Lindy has put together.

How would you describe “Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse” to potential audiences with no Gilbert and Sullivan knowledge?

RUDDIGORE is quite layered… It’s like a village of great odd characters set in the strange Victorian era with all its weird obsessions with marriage, etiquette, madness and the occult, and the bizarre underbelly that can bubble away within an ultra conservative culture, but viewing it all through our contemporary eyes. It is a gothic, comic opera. As OperaQ describes…The main story is about a ‘shy and law-abiding, gentleman farmer Robin Oakapple is working up the courage to ask the beautiful Rose Maybud to marry him. But he has a dark secret; he is the heir to a terrible curse befalling all Baronets of Ruddigore and has been living in disguise to escape his fate. I would say that this is a great opera to see for first time opera-goers. Wait until you see the design… It’s incredible!!

Do you prefer humorous roles?

I always enjoy laughter and seeing the humorous side of life as long as there is heart… I love off-beat characters, and the tragic comic who also has real vulnerabilities and heart. I have a soft spot for human frailties, the non-mainstream, and I embrace the oblique take on life. It’s always important to be able to laugh at ourselves. I think I would quite relish more serious roles too.

How long have you been a professional performer?

I was first paid for a performance when I was part of The Hibiscus Sisters in about 1988. It may have only been $20 at the time, but still a thrill to glance down the barrel of a professional career in the arts. That’s about 29 years… I can hardly believe how time has flown!!

Have you always lived in Queensland?

I grew up in outer suburban Geebung, Brisbane, and have always been based in Queensland. However much of my time over the last 12 years I’ve been lucky enough to tour Australia, Europe, Scandinavia, UK, Asia, USA and Canada with various shows that I’ve been part of creating. Brisbane has a very supportive arts community and returning home to Brisbane is like a warm embrace. Brisbane has grown enormously over the last 15 years but there is still a close community feel that often smaller townships are valued for.

Where did you go to school?

I went to Geebung State Primary School followed by Kedron State High School. Kedron SHS had an exciting diversity of students and continue to run brilliant programs including LOTE, Languages Other Than English. When I attended Kedron, there was a tradition of doing an annual musical… I played Lady Raeburn in SALAD DAYS and Lady Brockhurst in THE BOYFRIEND. It was these roles that gave me a taste for performing fun characters to a rollicking audience. I clearly remember the adrenaline rush. Funnily enough I went to Kedron SHS with Jason Barry-Smith who is playing my beloved Sir Despard Murgatroyd in RUDDIGORE. I was in grade 12 when I distinctly remember being completely blown away when I saw him sing so beautifully on the school-hall stage when he was in grade 8. It is amazing that 35 years later we will now perform on stage together.

Are you looking forward to reuniting with Bryan Probets and why?

I am very excited about performing with Bryan Probets again. I have been a big fan of Bryan for a long time, and I always adore watching him bring his characters to life. He is hugely talented, generous, hilarious, supportive and brilliant to work with. In fact it is incredibly exciting to work with this entire delicious cast of RUDDIGORE as they could all for different reasons be described in the same way.

What was special about that production of Bernstein’s “Candide” where you played the Old Lady with one buttock?

As it is with RUDDIGORE so it was with CANDIDE… the team of people make it special. It is exciting when there is great chemistry amongst everyone both back-stage and on-stage. CANDIDE was my first foray into the opera world, so I was filled with both trepidation and excitement. I completely trusted director Lindy Hume’s taste and her capacity to bring together a great team. Throughout the entire process of realising and performing CANDIDE there was an incredible joy amongst everyone involved. I loved playing the Old Lady with one buttock and imbuing her with own special way of walking.


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