The Sapphires is one of Australia’s best-loved stories. Four young Yorta Yorta women from regional Australia, who like singing country music, suddenly get the chance to change their tune, their clothes and their lives. Wearing uniforms of sequins and armed only with microphones, they find themselves trying to spread joy in the hell that is the Vietnam War.
Winning multiple awards as a play, film and soundtrack album, there was one challenge left, and that was to undertake a national tour of Australia. Award-winning writer Tony Briggs, son of Laurel Robinson – whose real life experiences in The Sapphires the play is based on – is directing his work in a version he promises will be the most intimate telling of the funny and heartwarming tale yet. We caught him during a brief break in his hectic rehearsal schedule, ahead of the show’s stop at HOTA, Home of the Arts, in March.
“It’s the first time this show has toured regionally and it’s a massive undertaking and very ambitious,” he tells us. “But it is an ambitious show, and we’re a very tight knit group. You do become very close and tight in theatre in order to get through the hard part of the process (which every production goes through!)
“For me it’s something that enables me to take this story to the people. I felt like it was the right time to do it, the opportunity came up, and I’m not the kind of person to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
The 2012 film version of The Sapphires, starring Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy, is what really brought the already-popular story to a much wider audience.
“I was so happy with it,” Tony says. “Of course there are things I felt I could have done better personally, from a writing perspective, but who can complain about getting their first feature film up and winning a swag of awards, and working with an incredibly talented director and cast? I mean, really, I’ve been doing this for thirty years and if I never make another project again it won’t be for want of trying, but I can sit back and go ‘I’ve achieved that, and I’ve achieved that with people I really love and respect’.”
The new production features Ngaire Pigram as Gail, Matilda Brown as Kay, Mindy Kwanten as Cynthia, and Lorinda Merrypor as Julie.
“Our casting process was extensive and we are delighted with the four Aboriginal women cast as The Sapphires who are all exceptional singers, actors and dancers,” explains Tony. “At the core of these characters is incredible strength and resilience – of course there’s a naiveté like there is for all of us at a young age – but also an adventurous spirit.
“I hope the audience will feel a fresh sense of connection to a story that has already successfully infiltrated the psyche of the Australian theatre and movie-going public and get a sense of joy and understanding of who Aboriginal people are and walk away from The Sapphires with a smile on their faces.”
Tune into The Sapphires when the touring production puts on two shows over Friday 15 and Saturday 16 March, 2019 at HOTA, Home of the Arts. Tickets at hota.com.au.