Holly Austin and Scarlet McGlynn – Boxing Day

Boxing Day

After a full day of rehearsals for their upcoming show Boxing Day, actress Holly Austin and director Scarlet McGlynn meet me at the East Village Hotel in Darlinghurst. Munching on peanuts and pizza, I hear their laughter before I’ve sat down. The two of them perfectly balance one another: McGlynn is incredibly articulate and oozes calm, while the bright-eyed Austin cracks jokes and jumps around in her chair. “Every day has been a lot of fun,” she says. It’s easy to see why the 30-year-old actress has been cast as Boxing Day’s cheeky ten-year-old protagonist Freya, who lives in a sleepy seaside town called Rainwood in Tasmania. While the vivacious little girl loves Pictionary, Pig Latin and ‘80s slasher movies, all she really wants for Christmas is her family to be celebrating together.

“Freya is at that breaking point where she knows Father Christmas doesn’t exist,” Holly says. “She starts to see the inner workings of her family and who they truly are. Watching this vulnerable young girl change and face the world is sad but riveting and exciting.”

This coming-of-age story has been in the pipeline for over two years; the initial inspiration came from a photograph of a young girl lying on the wall of a tidal pool, taken by a Scottish artist called Rona Lee. Since then, writer Phil Spencer, along with McGlynn and Austin, have been developing the show. For Austin, the biggest but most exciting challenge has been portraying a child. “Kids have a beautiful honesty to them,” she says simply. “They have a great way of calling a spade a spade. Adults can complicate things, and that’s the hardest thing as an actor, to just strip everything back and return to your instincts and don’t overthink things.”

Austin appeared as Rosencrantz in Hamlet at the Sydney Theatre Company earlier this year and, even in a supporting role, completely stole the show. In Boxing Day she is teamed up with AFI award-winning actress Annie Byron (STC’s Hedda Gabler, Calendar Girls) who switches between portraying Freya’s 9-year-old best friend and 70-year-old grandmother, and Alan Flower (Rake, Version 1.0) in the role of Freya’s dad – an oil-rig worker who’s glued to the TV whenever he’s home.

“All three of the performers are captivating to watch,” McGlynn explains. “Holly is great because she gets so involved in her work and has done so much research. A lot of people ask why we haven’t got a ten-year-old playing the character, but we didn’t want that because Holly has an emotional maturity that she brings to the role, and we’re tackling some big themes in this play such as grief, lies, honesty and family secrets. Also,” she adds, “having an adult play a child is inherently playful.”

“There’s so much pressure surrounding Christmas to make it a day of celebration,” Holly muses. “Christmas Day is often when everything gets whipped up and the following day is the day of reckoning, and this is true of this play. It really sucks you in. It’s sad saying goodbye to your childhood but it’s the next step to the big, adult world.”

Despite much prodding for more plot details, the girls are careful not to give too much away – just that audiences can expect some kind of mystery, and a rich story that cleverly mixes comedy and drama. “Any good comedy is also very dark,” McGlynn says. “In any of those high points in life where there is tragedy, comedy is also present and I think that’s very true of this piece as well. It will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.”
Published in The Brag in print and online on September 5, 2011

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