Elise Lamb: Louise Mack and building new Australian theatre
Elise Lamb is award-winning Australian writer, director and actress who lives in London. I caught up with Elise to talk about her latest work and the way that London has shaped her career.
I asked Elise what motivated her to write the play, The Australian Girl.
"The play is about Louise Mack. She was the first female war correspondent during WWI. I was motivated to start writing her story when I was a student at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama - I had to do a final project and I decided I wanted to write a play."
"I was very influenced by Jessica Swale, the Olivier Award-winning writer. Swale writes about women from history and wrote the acclaimed ‘Blue Stockings’ and ‘Nell Gwynn’. She inspired me to write about a real person."
"I also wanted to write about someone that resonated with me. I took that as an opportunity to look to my own Australian history and find someone whose story I felt connected to and wanted to explore more."
"I started researching and some obvious people turned up like author Ethel Turner, but then I came across Louise Mack. I couldn’t believe I didn't know about this woman - she was so amazing."
"I immediately wanted to research more about her and so I knew that Louise was the motivation I needed and she was the person for my play."
I asked Elise to tell me what first piqued her interest in Louise.
"I read the memoir she wrote after the First World War, ‘A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War’ and I was struck by her courage and bravery. There was another book written by her niece Nancy Phelan, ‘The Romantic Lives of Louise Mack’. It’s a more personal account of who Louise was, and when I read that I really felt I related to her in so many ways."
"Like Louise, I am always the one who makes mistakes or the one who seeks new experiences ahead of others around me. I felt that Louise was a woman ahead of her time and she was so forward-thinking. I was really impressed by her."
I wondered what motivated Elise to move to London.
"I was awarded the Ian Potter Cultural Trust Award, which enabled me to come here to train and do a Masters. They supported me, which was amazing because I definitely don’t come from a wealthy family, and helped me so much.
"Coming to London was a step in my career towards creating new theatre and being a contributor to the arts. I actually wrote in my application for the award that I wanted to learn how to create new theatre. I hadn't expected to fall into writing but when I got exposed to lecturers and people like Duncan Macmillan my mind was blown."
"I spent many years as an actor and a dancer, and it was great to do that, but I now know that I want to help build the industry and build theatre."
"One of my big idols back in Australia is Kate Mulvany. I've seen her in all the Bell Shakespeare productions she does. She’s a wonderful inspiration."
"She is someone who is successfully both an actor and writer."
"I think that is an Australian trait as so many Australians don’t just do one thing. We are very contributive and supportive of working together. I’m not surprised I have become a multi-skilled artist and fallen into writing and directing alongside my acting. I feel I can do and contribute more to my industry – I can create work not only for myself but for others."
Study has been an important part of Elise’s creative life. She has studied at The Royal Academy of Dance, the Australian Dance Performance Institute, the National Institute of Dramatic Art and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art as well as the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I was interested to know if London was a place that felt particularly good for her career.
"Absolutely. The opportunities here are phenomenal. Everywhere you turn there is so much theatre and culture. Even sitting on a tube, you can just find yourself sitting next to an actor or a director or a writer, which is incredible. London is a hub, really amazing. I do miss working in Australia on Australian projects with fellow Australians, but there is something really exciting about tapping into the industry in London. It makes you work harder and try new things and I think it’s really important as individual artists to gain new skills, experiences and networks. I’m sure I’ll return to Australia one day but for now I’m really happy working and building my career here in London."
I asked if being in London, and away from her homeland, enabled her to reflect more deeply on Australia
"Yes, absolutely. I never thought I would say this but I am a little bit homesick. When you are in Australia you want to get out and see the world. Then you get to London, you really miss it. That drives me to write. Writing about an Australian woman has certainly made me have a new sense of pride in who I am and where I come from."
I asked Elise about growing up in Australia and her hometown. I was surprised by how much travel she has undertaken.
"I come from Brisbane and my family still live there. I moved to Japan when I was 21 and worked for Universal Studios. Then I went back to Australia, then lived in America for a while, then went to Sydney because I got to study at NIDA and then went back to Brisbane again. This is my second visit to London."
"My family were always limited in our ability to travel as my sister Kate has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair so this made travel anywhere more challenging."
"I just always wanted to travel. I used to beg my parents to send me to New York because I wanted to go to a dance school there. So I always had that streak within me - not thinking that I needed money and visas!"
I asked Elise how she managed to come to the UK in terms of visas.
"Well my mother’s side of the family has Scottish ancestry but I just miss out on the passport. I came over on a student visa originally, but now I am on the two-year youth mobility visa and then I will have to eventually go on to a promising talent visa."
I asked Elise to share her favourite parts of London.
"The theatres! There is so much history and tradition in London theatres. They are so beautiful. And the Royal parks, I love walking through the parks during the different seasons. Autumn in London is definitely my favourite."