VETERAN Aussie actor and Prisoner Logie winner Carol Burns laughingly declares she has been acting longer than most people have been alive – since 1967, to be exact – but it seems it’s never too late for a “career first”.
For her role as Big Mama in Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company’s co-production of Tennessee Williams’ steamy 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Burns is slipping into a fat suit.
“When I wrote to Kate (Cherry; Black Swan’s artistic director), I said: would you consider me though I’m not plump enough,” Burns said by phone from Brisbane.
“The wardrobe department had to create bulk for me and modelled it on my shape; I have the best costume in the show!”
Burns started her award-winning career in her native Queensland before stints in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and then London, where she performed on the West End and appeared in British TV shows The Bill, Taggart and Heartbeat.
In spite of her vast experience, she has never before performed in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which was adapted for the big screen in 1958, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, and had subsequent stage and small screen revivals.
However, she has long admired Mississippi-born Williams’ body of work.
“I love the epic nature of Tennessee’s writing and the great poetry of it; it’s a real event piece of theatre,” Burns said.
Like The Glass Menagerie and Suddenly Last Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – which is set in the Mississippi Delta plantation home of redneck cotton tycoon Big Daddy and examines familial relationships and issues of greed and sexual desire – is semi-autobiographical.
“Williams’ own father was very abusive and neglectful and he thought his mother was overbearing,” Burns said.
“Big Mama puts up with the most awful things. Big Daddy says: I haven’t been able to stand the sight, smell or sound of that woman for over 40 years.
“But in the ‘50s, women were obliged to certain things. You couldn’t just walk out on your family.”
Burns promised this production would be much bolder than the film, which shied away from the homosexuality present in the original text.
“There is a lot more raw energy than the film allowed.”
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is at the Heath Ledger Theatre in the State Theatre Centre of WA, Northbridge, from September 10-25.