Birdsworth s fear of freedom

Liz Birdsworth represents a common occurrence where women who have been to prison live their time better inside than outside - a reality she is faced with now that she is up for parole again in Wentworth.

"It's wonderful to tap into the notion of what you do when you're faced with the outside world," says Celia Ireland, who plays Liz.

"The fallout of once she's out, what actually happens is a really interesting trajectory for her. It's confronting really and testing. What do these women do once they're not here anymore?"

Sentenced to 11 years for manslaughter, dangerous driving causing death, and driving under the influence, Liz drank a bottle of vodka because of the stress of organising her mother-in- law's birthday party.

After a fight with her husband, ending with him asking her to leave, Liz drove a tractor over the party tables narrowly missing one of her two children and hitting her mother-in-law by accident.

In an attempt to cope with her incarceration, Liz has managed to keep her children separate from her prison life, in the process adopting a mothering role for fellow inmates.

"In the first series none of the prisoners knows (she has a family)," explains Ireland.

"Apparently it's a really common thing for women in prison who have children.

"The most intriguing thing about it is it's nice to see women behaving in a certain way when they're cut off from normal outside- world gender roles. They're like caged animals. Some of them cope with violence or drugs and Liz has tapped into the mother role."

Although she was initially reticent about reconnecting with her children outside the prison walls, Liz soon discovers it's not as easy she had hoped.

Years have passed since she last saw her children, who are now teenagers on the verge of adulthood and making their own life decisions. While Liz and Ireland clearly have some differences, an integral mothering and caring nature lies in them both. "I'm Liz's biggest ally," she says.

"I trained as a counsellor a few years ago and I was originally a primary teacher. Acting is actually therapeutic because you're constantly going through your own experiences to work out how you can fuel your own work."

She also keeps her husband and two children divided from her world on the Wentworth set in Melbourne.

"It's important for me to have a separate world. You go home and remember you're a mother," she reasons.

Ironically, her children have helped provide her with some of the most important feedback she's received on the show.

"It's been a fantastic response. I've had parents coming up to me in the playground at school telling me how much they loved the show and wanting to know what happens next," she says.

But it also appears that it is just as dangerous for Liz in the real world as it was behind bars with Franky (Nicole da Silva) and Boomer (Katrina Milosevic) planning to exact revenge after it was revealed she was the prison "snitch".

Luckily, there are some inmates at Wentworth, Bea (Danielle Cormack) and Doreen (Perth-raised WAAPA graduate Shareena Clanton), who still have her back.

"The new normal has shifted and it's terrifying," Ireland says. "Her loyalty was really, really tested. As complex and bloody and awful as it is, incredible friendships and loyalties were formed."

With the finale looming - it will air on August 5 - the second season of the gripping, locally made prison drama has proved just as compelling as the first.

A big hit in Australia and the UK, Wentworth beat fellow US women's prison drama Orange is the New Black - which kicked off its second season on Showcase this week - to the small screen by mere months.

However, Ireland says there is no competition between the shows.

"At the end of the day I just think you have to take things on face value and I think they'll find their own audiences," she says.

"I know a lot of the female extras who play inmates are watching it and loving it but they also loved our show.

"Someone said to me 'It's too much to have two shows on about women's prisons'. And I thought 'Oh, how ridiculous'. When you think of all the other heavy male-dominated dramas that are set in a police station I say bring on another one."

Wentworth airs Tuesdays at 6.30pm on pay-TV channel SoHo.

The West Australian

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