Success bring author to WA
Success bring author to WA

Nearly 20 years after first seeing the play Singular Women at the Edinburgh Festival, theatre producer Sally Burton has prevailed on the playwright, her friend Stewart Permutt, to come to Perth to oversee its premiere here.

The production is the first from Burton's new company Onward Production, which she set up to produce plays in Perth using the royalties from the films of her late husband, Richard Burton. Based in Perth since 2005, Burton also has established an annual playwrights' award, with a $20,000 first prize and $10,000 for the runner-up.

Burton says she was entranced by Permutt's stories of four very different women when she saw it in 1991, with Lesley Joseph from the TV show Birds of a Feather playing all four parts.

"He is an insightful writer with a highly tuned sense of observation and comedy," she says. "I believe the audience will recognise something or someone in all four characters."

In four parts, the play follows a woman publicising a book about her late comedian partner, a chocoholic, a doll-obsessed spinster, and a dwarf with a great right hook and a shaky acting career.

Permutt says he originally wrote Singular Women for four actors but it will be performed in Perth by the mother-daughter combination of Jenny and Rebecca Davis

"Lesley wanted to do it as a solo piece because she was getting so well known but this time we are doing it with two actresses," he says. "The characters are based on four people that I know around Kentish Town, where I live in north London."

Permutt began working as an actor in the 1960s but found his forte as a scriptwriter for the stage, radio and television. As an occasional stage actor he has been directed by Sam Mendes in Alan Bennett's Habeus Corpus, appeared with Sir Peter Ustinov in The Old Curiosity Shop and took off his clothes in Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!

With a dozen produced plays, he also is building a strong body of monologues that has led some critics to compare him to Bennett, who wrote the Talking Heads series. Singular People, the four-monologue sequel to Singular Women, played at The Edinburgh Festival in 2001, followed by the one-woman show, Unsuspecting Susan, two years later.

"I don't like to compare myself to Alan Bennett because he is so brilliant but yes, he has influenced me. He was the first person to write a monologue that was on television - Patricia Routledge did A Woman of No Importance in 1982 - and that changed everyone's perception of monologues.

"I like the idea of a character telling an audience their story, which you can't always do in a play where the characters interact with one another. I wanted to get the inner life of the characters.

"I like to see an actor talk to an audience as if they were another person in the room and talk to them in a way they wouldn't be able to talk to another character, totally uninterrupted, about their lives. It also has an element of stand-up comedy where you directly interact with an audience."

Permutt's latest play, Many Roads to Paradise was presented in London last year and is due for another London production in October. The story of a blind old Jewish lady's emerging friendship with her Muslim aged-care nurse will have an exploratory reading at the Blue Room on Monday.

Singular Women is DownStairs at the Maj from Tuesday to September 5, with previews this Friday and Saturday. Book at BOCS.

The West Australian

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