Anne Charleston on a Park Bench

There might be five ladies on the bench, but who has blue hair anymore, asks the Neighbours icon

‘Hello,’ says Madge from Neighbours, answering the phone with her distinctive, husky vowels. Well, she’s hardly going to answer with someone else’s.

It is, of course, actually actor Anne Charleston, these days based in Galway rather than Australia, on the other end of the line. She is here to talk about her role in Five Blue-Haired Ladies Sitting on a Green Park Bench at the Grand Opera House, but after 10 years playing the strong-willed doyenne of Ramsey Street (the on-screen mother of pre-pop princess Kylie), Charleston is always going to evoke the character a bit. Madge is an icon.

Charleston, however, is a veteran actress of stage and screen, with a series of before and after Madge roles under her belt. She was Edna’s loose-laced little sister Lily on Emmerdale - growing cannabis, stealing a car and having an aneurysm before eventually running off with a elderly biker - and Jessie - who was Miss January - in an acclaimed production of The Calendar Girls.

All strong characters, but very different women. As Charleston remarks, ‘otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing my job very well!’

Of her role in Calendar Girls, Charleston admits that some of the requirements for the role were a bit daunting. In particular, the need to appear nude on stage. ‘One day the producer told us, “Tomorrow you’re going to take all your clothes off”, but on the day the furthest any of us got was down to our underwear. It wasn’t until opening night that we all took everything off.’

Eventually, though, Charleston got used to acting in the altogether. ‘After all,’ she points out. ‘I did play the role twice.’

This is also Charleston second time playing the role of Rose in Five Blue-Haired Ladies Sitting on a Green Park Bench.

Set in New York, the play is about Five (non) Blue-Haired Ladies who meet regularly on a park bench to trade witty stories both witty and poignant about their triumphs and tragedies. As each lady prepares to leave the bench, perhaps for the last time, they realize that they the Grim Reaper might have a softer side himself.

Charleston is eager to revisit secret-keeping, non-dyed Rose. It was, she points out, 10 years ago that she first played the character. She is interested to see what direction this new production will go in.

One thing that she doesn’t expect to change is the quality of the play itself.

‘Considering that he [John A. Penzotti] was a very young man when he wrote it,’ she says. ‘It is written with extreme empathy and understanding. It’s also tough, dry, confrontational and very, very funny.’

No nudity this time, though. In fact, Charleston wears more layers than usual, donning a wig for the part.

‘I don’t think Rose is the type of lady who’d dye her hair,’ she says. It isn't a blue wig though. None of the ladies actually have blue hair. Does anyone have blue hair anymore?’

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