Great stories, well told

Theatre 180's 'The Lighthouse Girl Saga'

Western Australia has a rich history of memorable stories about people and events which have made a big impression on future generations. Theatre 180 Great Stories, Well Told is playing an important part in bringing these stories to the stage.

Such is its success that 21 Hearts, the story of Sister Vivian Bullwinkel and the massacre of nurses of the Vyner Brooke in 1942, due to open at the newly refurbished Como Theatre in April, is already sold out.

“We have been really overwhelmed by the response of people and the interest in the production,” says Theatre 180 executive director, producer and actor Rebecca Davis. “We always knew the show would have a wide reach because it is a much-loved story and one that people are very passionate about.

“But to be sold out two months before the opening is really something else and really sensational so we are looking at ways to remount a second season later this year, in October.”

In 2019, after 25 years of creating theatre from oral and recorded histories through productions and affirming the value of seniors under the artistic direction of Jenny Davis OAM, Agelink Theatre transitioned to become Theatre 180.

“Stuart Halusz, the current artistic director of Theatre 180 and I have been working with Agelink Theatre since its inception in 1993 and we were on the board of Agelink,” says Rebecca. “Then we moved overseas for many years, returned and rejoined the board.

“About four years ago when Jenny was looking at handing over the baton she had a succession plan in place to have Stuart take over as artistic director. It was a smooth transition because, at that time, Agelink was growing quite rapidly and Jenny needed someone to take the company to the next level.

“Stuart and I had received funding from the Department for Creative Development for AB Facey’s A Fortunate Life. Initially we thought we would do one massive, epic production but we realised that the best way was to tour the show.

“We were in talks with composer Ron Siemiginowski who runs the Orana cinema chain in WA and who wanted to use his cinemas to adapt theatre and music in a cinema environment.

“So it seemed a natural transition to move across to Theatre 180 with Jenny still very much involved in the company writing and adapting and working on other projects. It has been a really lovely journey. From A Fortunate Life, we have grown exponentially through other productions in the surround style with Sydney II Lost and Found, The Lighthouse Girl Saga and Taking Liberty and we have other exciting projects ahead including a collaboration with the WA Museum.”

Rebecca says that she, Stuart and Jenny met and interviewed Vivian Bullwinkel in 1995 while producing Cavalcade, to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“She was an amazing, incredible, inspirational woman and her story was part of Cavalcade. We thought that one day we would like to tell her story but we weren’t sure how to do it.

“People have said how touched they were when they met Vivian Bullwinkel, she had a special quality about her.”

“Here we are decades later and her story has come to fruition. It’s something we are really thrilled about. We are currently in rehearsal at the newly renovated Como Theatre; it’s a perfect venue for the shows we do.”

Theatre 180’s artistic director, Stuart Halusz with actor, executive director, producer Rebecca Davis

Theatre 180 is theatre with a social conscience, understanding the stories of the past in order to write those of the future.

Theatre 180 will present The Lighthouse Girl Saga at Luna Leederville from May 2 to 5 and A Fortunate Life at Luna Leederville from May 10-12 with 21 Hearts playing from October 30 to November 10 at Como Theatre.

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Josephine Allison started her career in journalism at 18 as a cadet on the Geraldton Guardian newspaper. She realised her ambition to work on a daily newspaper when she later joined The West Australian where she spent almost 34 years covering everything from police courts to parliament, general news, the arts and real estate. After moving on from The West, she worked on several government short-term media contracts and part-time at a newspaper in Midland before joining Have a Go News in 2012. These days she enjoys writing about interesting people from various fields, often unsung heroes who have helped make WA a better place.