Set in rural Australia in the dark days of the ‘80s, Diving for Pearls focuses on the struggles and triumphs of the human character in response to change, industrialisation, globalisation, and where Australia fits into it all. Centred around working class couple Barbara and Den, their homecoming daughter Verge and their in-laws Ron and Marge, Thomson’s story shows us one family’s reactions to the drastically-changing world around them. Although dealing with personal hardships and, at times, strenuous subject matter, one of the successes of Thomson’s script is the ability to counter that tension with dollops of wry and distinctly Australian humour.
Proving the script also has that rare timeless quality, Hit Productions is the latest in a long list of companies to bring the story to the stage almost two decades after it was written. “[Katherine] actually came to a read through we had, which was incredibly helpful. I mean, she’s written it way back then; I can’t imagine what that’s like as writer,” says Chris Bunworth, who will play Ron in the upcoming production.
The enduring themes of Diving for Pearls are in fact something that initially drew Bunworth to the script when he first read it. “It’s that time in Australia where the ground was shifting. You know, we’d come through the Mendes period and we were starting to emerge. But the themes are kind of timeless you know? It’s about aspiration, in the sense that we all want a better life for ourselves, and these are some people who don’t believe that they’re going forward in life,” explains Bunworth. “I think the beauty of it is that we can all relate as Australians to that time and place. Whether you were alive or whether it’s just part of the older generation’s story. There’s a lot in it that rings true; she wrote this play 20 years ago and we’re still having the same conversation.”
In 1990, after gypsy-ing around the globe throughout his formative years, Australian Chris Bunworth paved his own way into acting by boldly co-founding The Telluride Repertory Theatre Company in Colorado. Twelve years later, after spending the better part of the past decade performing everything from Shakespeare to Nosferatu across the land of the free, Bunworth decided to come home. Ravaged with the acting bug, he has been performing across stage, screen and film ever since. Spending time on all the Aussie staples from Underbelly to Neighbours, Bunworth’s first love will always be the stage.
“It’s like, the difference between recording and performing live if you were a musician. I make that analogy – it’s a very rough one, but that’s mine,” he says of comparing TV work to theatre. “There’s nothing more immediate than telling a story to real people in real time. At its basic level, that for me is what the theatre is and what its best can be.”
Bunworth is unsure though how exactly he got involved in Hit’s newest production to begin with. “I think you’ll have to ask [the director] Denis about that, but as I understand it he saw my name somewhere and that rang a bell so they called me in one day to come in and read for the play. I loved the story straight away.” Having never read the script or seen the play before, Bunworth was able to put his own perspective into his character Ron, something that can be challenging for actors tainted by preconceptions. Not only is he thrilled to be involved in a Hit Production after admiring their work for many years, with a cast including names like Kevin Harrington and Heather Bolton, Bunworth is in awe of the talent of the people he is working with.
“The quality of artists working on this show are top notch. It’s wonderful. It’s wonderful!” he gushes. “And when I say wonderful I mean as an artist, you go to work and you just go, ‘Yeah!’ It’s all beautiful and all the elements come together; I just tell my part of that story.”
We’ll see if Bunworth is as enthusiastic after being on the road for four months. After the premiere of Diving for Pearls hits the Clocktower Centre next week, Hit is taking the same cast on the road around Australia, lighting up stages from Port Macquarie to Perth. Although the tour has the potential to be exhausting, Bunworth, as usual, focuses on the positives. “This is a rare opportunity for acting in Australia; to be able to have a job that lasts this long.” And Bunworth is itching to get started on telling the story he feels will stir up a lot of emotion amongst its audiences. “I think for baby boomers especially it will have a certain nostalgia about it – I don’t know how many baby boomers read Beat, but they should.”
BY KATE MCCARTEN