Fans of Mary Coustas, who made her name in the 1980s as Effie, a second-generation Greek girl, in Wogs Out of Work, now have a chance to get to know the woman behind Effie, the girl with the big hair and even bigger mouth, in Coustas’s latest performance. 

This is Personal is indeed a highly personal dramatic monologue, in which Coustas steps out from behind the mask of Effie – yes, Effie does make an appearance, to a burst of applause – and talks about her childhood fears, the grief of losing a baby, the intimacy of family, and the cohort of women friends or ‘besties’ who came to her rescue.

The stage is brightly lit and set for the revelations to come, with just a table and chair. The jacket (draped over the chair) and the clock (on the table) are superfluous – the ticking clock tends to distract from the dialogue. Coustas had no need of small props or sound effects but, using the simple upright chair, which doubles as a couch or waiting-room bench, she slouches, perches or squirms, creating the characters she has encountered on her journey through life.

For a show that deals with grief, death, ethnicity, class and philosophy (she is Greek, after all), there is no shortage of laughs. As her father always said, ‘You’ve got to find the funny’. For this Greek girl, family is paramount and an infinite source of comic material. Highlights of the show are dramatised scenes featuring her family, notably her father and mother. She impersonates her beloved parents with a rich palette of expressions, movements and voices, developed over a long career in comedy. They may be caricatures, but they get to the heart of the people themselves and are drawn with infinite love.

Her father was pivotal to the development of her values, and to her career. He tried hard to give his daughter guidance, and his advice has stayed with her, long after his death. When she floundered early on, trying to find a career to suit her, he offered: ‘Do what you are great at.’

When she found herself on stage for the first time, she finally discovered something she was great at. 

With her parents’ blessing, Coustas went to drama school. Her parents came to see their daughter in her graduation show and sat open-mouthed as she cavorted about the stage in an uninhibited performance piece. Her father, bewildered, said, ‘You need to tell your story, our stories.’ He died soon after that, but his words echo down the years and on to the Playhouse stage, where his daughter is finally honouring his advice. She has put aside her inhibitions again, this time opting for honesty and open-heartedness.

Coustas portrays her mother, Fani, as larger than life, loud, funny and innocent. Her proclamations are issued from the kitchen sink, where she stands with her back to the audience, in dialogue with her daughter. Coustas manages these tricky two-handers with a deft touch for the hilarious, never losing her sympathy for the woman who was denied education in Greece and came alone to Australia as a seventeen-year-old to find a better life.

Her father and mother had their individual verbal and physical tics which make for great comedy, but then there are beautifully sketched minor characters, like the sleazy restaurateur, a misogynist womaniser who punctuates his remarks with (turning in his chair to Coustas): ‘It’s nothing personal’, a transparent put-down and an echo of the title she chose for the show.

As the evening progresses, and after all these physical high jinks, Coustas slows her delivery and connects closely to her audience, as she reveals the details of her IVF treatment and its outcome. She is now at an age to dispense wisdom herself, and her main concern is to offer guidance to her own daughter. For the moment, though, we are privy to her compassion and insight, sweetened with a generous dollop of ‘the funny’.

This is Personal brings together the skills of storyteller, inspirational speaker, actor and high-octane physical comedian. Entertainment at its best, with a soft underbelly and a kick in its tail.

Event details

Arts Centre Melbourne in association with A-List Entertainment presents
This is Personal
Mary Coustas

Director Blazey Best

Venue: Playhouse, Arts Centre | St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Dates: 27 June 2023 – 2 July 2023
Tickets: $79.90 – $59.90
Bookings: 1300 182 183 | artscentremelbourne.com.au

 

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