Anita Hegh draws on family memories for The Father at Sydney Theatre Company
August, 20 2017        Posted By Veronique        Comments Off on Anita Hegh draws on family memories for The Father at Sydney Theatre Company

Family has been on actor Anita Hegh’s mind a lot lately. It’s unavoidable, she says, when you are working on a play like Florian Zeller’s The Father.

“My own father passed away after being very ill in his last few years, so there are issues in the play that are very present for me,” says Hegh, who plays Anne, daughter of Andre (played by John Bell), an elderly, increasingly frail man who is losing his grip on reality.

“I’ve been reflecting a lot about how extraordinary my brother was when my father was in hospital. My father was feeling very afraid in hospital and he was lonely. So my brother asked the nurses to teach him how to look after him, how to make him comfortable and care for him. Then he took my father home and he spent his last few months with my brother and my Mum.”

Hegh’s father died at home, surrounded by family. “We were all there when it happened and that is a quite an unusual thing these days,” Hegh says. “Not a lot of us get the chance to do that. It’s a very difficult process to negotiate. At what point do you hand over a loved one to the health care system? At what point do you say ‘I can’t do this anymore’ ?”

Zeller’s play depicts a confusing world for its title character, whose increasing uncertainty about his place in the world is reflected in a slippery script. Andre, 80, a former tap dancer, lives with Anne and her husband Antoine. Or is Andre an ex-engineer and does Anne live in London with her lover Pierre?

“It’s deliberately unclear,” Hegh says. “There is a kind of mystery element to everything so that the audience gets a taste of what confusion might be like in old age.”

Bell describes the play as “one that presses every single button”.

“There is comedy and there is tragedy,” he says. “It might be disturbing or emotional for some people but because there is so much warmth and deep emotion it won’t be a negative experience at all. I think the audience will find it puzzling, they have to figure out who is who, but it is deeply moving and very funny at times.”

The Father marks a return to the dramatic stage for Bell, 76, who has spent recent months recovering from a serious fall, when he slipped on the stairs at his home and fractured his neck. The role of Andre isn’t a physically demanding one, he says – not compared with his most recent King Lear for Bell Shakespeare in 2010 – but it isn’t easy, either.

“Florian is a brilliant writer but he has this fractured style with a lot of ellipses and spaces. You have to get all that absolutely right. And the father and daughter relationship is a complex one, too. It isn’t like the relationships I have with my own daughters but I can see the truth in it, it is very familiar and somewhat painful. But Anita is lovely to work with. She is so immediate and spontaneous. Nothing is too hard for her.”

While Hegh has worked with Bell Shakespeare – the company Bell founded and ran for 25 years – it is her first time working on stage with him. “He’s a proper grown up!” she laughs. “He’s very polite but he’s also quite naughty and very funny to work with. This is quite a dark play but we’ve had a lot of fun.”

The Father plays until October 21 at Sydney Theatre Company Wharf 1, $79-$101,


Anita Hegh is best known as a stage actor but has also drawn a strong following for her work in the television series, Janet King. She plays Australian federal police sergeant Bianca Grieve, girlfriend to Marta Dusseldorp’s Janet King, one of Australia’s most prominent and much-loved television lesbians.

“Playing a gay character is no different to approaching any other character,” Hegh says. “You have to reach into yourself and find some qualities that you have in common. Marta is pretty easy to fall in love with. She is brilliant and she’s a formidable actress. We are both bringing authentic love to this relationship.”

​Hegh and Dusseldorp also worked together on stage in Like a Fishbone at the Sydney Theatre Company. “It was great that we already had that working relationship.”

Fans have set up a Twitter account (@bianking4life) for all things Hegh and Dusseldorp, including videos and photos from the show. “That is really fun,” Hegh says. “I’m glad people are enjoying it.”

​Hegh won’t reveal if Bianca will return to Janet King in a further series. In the final episode, Bianca broke off the relationship. Instead, she says she has “a lot” of theatre locked in, and maybe some more television. Audiences will have to wait and see.