Life s agonies laid bare
Life's agonies laid bare

Was your childhood happy or miserable? What did you want to be when you grew up? Do you remember when you found out there was no Santa?

These are the kinds of questions that could kick-start any gathering, especially with guests of the calibre found in The Agony of Life, the latest offering from actor and writer Adam Zwar.

The series follows on from Agony Uncles and Agony Aunts, where love was under the spotlight. This time the aunts and uncles combine to guide us through the various stages of life, from childhood to adulthood, creating families and building careers.

Judith Lucy, Julia Zemiro and Myf Warhurst are among the insightful aunties, while the wise uncles include Stephen Curry, Lawrence Mooney and John Elliott.

In the first of eight episodes the celebs wittily hold forth on everything from dead pets to eccentric parents.

"In the previous series it was important to separate the aunts and uncles because they had such different things to say on the topic of love," Zwar said over the phone from his Melbourne office.

"This time, with the subject being life in general, what they had to say tended to merge more."

While the guests are always amusing, their contributions can be serious and heartfelt.

"Occasionally I am surprised by what they come out with," Zwar admitted. "In the first episode Sam Lane talks about losing her mother and Mirka Mora about nearly being sent to a concentration camp. In a later episode Craig McLachlan talks about having a tumour, something he has not revealed before."

Talking about careers, Yumi Stynes speaks of the regrets she has over the controversial comments she made about WA war hero and Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, and Kate Langbroek discusses breastfeeding on The Panel and the fall-out from that.

"They opened up in a way that I really didn't expect and the show is all the better for it. I guess it is because they are in a comfortable environment and can talk about things on their own terms. There is no pressure. The show does not live or die on whether they tell me titillating things about themselves.

"I sometimes wonder if my own answers would be as honest. But maybe once you've been honest you find out people like you for it and the world doesn't implode."

The carefully thought-out questions play a big part in eliciting interesting responses. Zwar, who earlier this week picked up two AACTA awards, (best light entertainment series for Agony Aunts and best comedy for Lowdown) came up with seven biggies for each episode, writing a precis of up to 300 words on each one to help the celebs come up with good answers.

"So I might include a personal story, statistics, other people's stories, quotes, recent news reports, things like that," Zwar explained.

"This research also informs a lot of what I say as the narrator. The guests only have a few days to mull over the questions before we come in and film.

"You don't know exactly what you are going to get but they are all enormously talented; I expect big things from them and they always deliver."

Zwar admitted he preferred asking questions to answering them.

Perhaps it comes from having been a journalist (Zwar spent more than a decade on the Sunday Herald Sun) and coming from a family of journalists. "I would really much rather interview other people than talk about myself. And these days I spend so much of my life in an editing suite, I have to live vicariously through others."

As in previous series, the celebrity ponderings are interspersed with archive footage to illustrate the timeless nature of the topics. There's old army training films, 1950s sex education films, clips of people climbing Mt Everest and footage of Australia in the 60s and 70s.

With Agony Uncles and Agony Aunts, Zwar hoped that teenagers and 20-somethings watching would feel they were not alone in their relationship angst. Likewise, he hopes The Agony of Life audience will feel we're all in this together.

"Life is hard, love is hard, but it's all pretty funny and no-one gets out alive."

'They are all enormously talented; I expect big things from them and they always deliver.'


The West Australian

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