Good Things Come in Senior Packages.
Jane Clifton, shortly to appear in John-Michael Howson’s More Sex Please … We’re Seniors! at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre, speaks to Coral Drouyn.
How do I categorise Jane Clifton? How much time have you got? Like quicksilver she is peripatetic, constantly changing just as you think you have a hold on her. Actress, jazz singer, cabaret artist, mother, novelist, radio personality, public speaker, rock chick, blogger, popstar, fanatical Essendon fan, comedienne, early feminist, marriage celebrant :- she is all of those and more, depending on how and when you cross her path.
In spite of the list, Jane will always be, to some people, Margo Gaffney from the iconic 80s’ show Prisoner. She still gets recognised in the street and confronted by fans for the times the rough-mouthed slag Margo took on top dog Bea Smith. “It’s a giggle,” she tells me, since our association goes back to that time 30 years ago, “Because some people really expect me to BE Margo, talk like her, act like her. But who doesn’t like to be recognised, even 30 years down the track?” I tell her that people expect me to remember the minute details of stories I created for that time, and I have no recall at all. “Exactly” says Jane, “When someone says….”remember how you had Bea trapped in the cell and…..” I want to stop them right there and say NO! They were great times, and I loved Margo, but they were a lifetime ago, and I’ve played so many roles before and since that it’s hard to isolate Margo, great as she was for my career.”
We’re chatting in a very trendy restaurant in Exhibition Street. Despite being in her sixties, Jane is looking great. She’s a stylish, urbane and very sophisticated lady, about as far removed from Gaffney as anyone could be. She’s also very intelligent and gifted in so many areas that it’s hard to pin her down. “I don’t want to be pinned down,” she tells me, “I like the fact that I’m not associated with just one thing. It means the offers of work are more diversified and I get to do a variety of things. And I love whatever I’m doing, so it’s all good. Being a Marriage Celebrant is a relatively new skill but I love that I get to be there when people share their most special day. It’s such a re-affirmation of life for me.”
I ask Jane if her ability to adapt to so many forms of entertainment has anything to do with her upbringing. She was an “army brat” who moved from country to country when her British Army dad was reassigned, arriving in Australia when she was twelve. “You’re probably right,” she says, “I had to be adaptable. We landed in Perth and I loved it. We lived in Floreat, not far from the beach and I could happily have been a surfie chick. But no sooner was I settled than we moved to Melbourne, and I’ve got to say that it was love at first sight, which certainly helped me adapt more quickly. My mum was an actress but I never saw that as a path for myself. My mother made it clear I didn’t have the necessary “gifts.” So I was going to be an English teacher. But at the end of the sixties Melbourne was THE place to be for interesting theatre. Places like The Pram Factory and La Mama were doing great experimental theatre, and the early days, with six o’clock closing not repealed until 1966, helped build theatre audiences. There was nothing much else to do. I had acted at school and Uni…but I never, in my whole life, had any formal training. Do you think I’m too old for V.C.A?”
What about the music? “Well, it’s always been a part of me. My partner is a musician….past loves have been musicians. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing, even in those early days at Frank Traynor’s (a jazz club in the 60s). I still prefer jazz and blues, though I guess you could say I had a “hit” with “Girls On The Wall” with Jo Jo Zep…that was pretty special. And strangely, though I don’t have a “musical theatre” voice, I’ve been lucky to have had long runs in Menopause –The Musical, and Mum’s The Word. And of course I get to sing in this new show. And when I’m not in a show I do a Monday night gig at Claypots – in Barkly Street St Kilda. I may add new skills, but I don’t let go of the old ones.”
Right now, Jane has just finished a run as the narrator in the peculiarly Victorian stage play Barassi – about a legend of AFL football. The run overlapped rehearsals for her next venture, the “new Show” she mentioned. It is John-Michael Howson’s More Sex Please … We’re Seniors which opens on Oct 31st for a limited run at The Comedy Theatre. “We’re well into rehearsals now and, because it’s a brand new show, there have been teething problems. There always are. It’s an indication of how much we’re all striving to make it the best it can be. And the music flowing from maestro Peter Sullivan is just fabulous. The cast is great too - Tracy Harvey, Mark Mitchell, Michael Veitch. It’s a “Who’s Who” of Aussie comedy. Oh, and I mustn’t forget Matt Quartermaine. He’s a delight. Pip Mushin is directing and keeping us all on our toes. But the show, the script, is a living thing. John-Michael knows his audience, but business comes during rehearsals and, because the world changes so fast these days, there are always new things to update in the business. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, wasn’t on the radar when John-Michael started writing this. Anyone over fifty will relate to this show, and that’s what we’re hoping the audience will be.”
Of course, they say that sixty is the new forty – which makes Jane and I barely middle aged. “I know,” she laughs, “and if you plan to live to 120 I suppose it’s true. I still have lots of energy and I love working, but every now and then my body screams at me to cut it some slack. Like this rotten knee which keeps playing up. Don’t worry, I forget about it when I’m onstage. I won’t be dictated to by a minor body part.” Isn’t it just a sign of age, I ask her. “Of course it is, and none of us is immune. But if you can step outside of the “age” monster and just enjoy every moment, whether you’re on the stage or in the audience, well, then you really can feel any age you want to be, Especially if you’re laughing. That has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?”
More Sex Please … We're Seniors plays at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, from October 31. Bookings: Ticketmaster or 1300 111 011.
Win Tickets to More Sex Please … We're Seniors at 1:30pm on Sunday 28th October 2012 at The Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne. Five doubles available.
We have our five winners. Congratulations to Peter Maver, Lena Verne, Brahma Kumari Heather, Victori Lock and Catriona DeVere.