‘The Year of Magical Thinking’

By Jennifer Kent

On Tuesday, July 12, the Maleny Arts Council presents ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’, a theatrical adaptation of Joan Didion’s memoir as told by award-winning actor Jillian Murray. Just as Joan wrote, ‘We tell ourselves stories to live’, Jillian brings to life the highly personal, deeply moving and sometimes funny account of Didion’s loss as she faces life after the sudden loss of her husband and later, her daughter.

GC&M News caught up with Jillian ahead of her performance at the Maleny Community Centre, sharing that while it is a ‘small works’ in theatrical terms, it reaches an emotional depth to which Joan’s story brings us together, expanding our own experiences.

Jillian, you have quite the repertoire of performances, and a few awards thrown in there too. Has the stage always been your calling?  What do you love about it?

What do I love about it? I suppose it’s being absolutely focussed to enter another world, and to create that world on stage. It’s part of an actor’s brain… to be focussed on what you’re doing, and feeling, and what the character is feeling and you’re always 98% there. The other part, of course, is to deal with the presence of the audience. I just love [the feeling of] being about to enter that world, and have the audience enter it with me. Of course it doesn’t happen easily – there’s lots of work to get there and it take a lot of grit. I look at it like a piece of music and when it sings, it’s beautiful.

How does your latest work, ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’, differ from previous performances?

First of all, there’s the practical differences… being on stage solo for an hour and a half. While it’s not my first solo performance, it is my longest and it can feel like a marathon… a terrific marathon. From the solo perspective, it is my world and it intrigues me – it’s just me on stage, with a chair and a table. [The Year of Magical Thinking] is a piece about loss… but a piece that is surprising, ironic and sometimes funny. For all her (Joan’s) intellect, coolness and collectiveness, there’s a lot of ‘if’ thinking around the death of her husband.

Didion’s work is deeply personal, what has been your approach going into this role? And how does preparing for a solo performance differ from other performances?

It took about four months for the text to really sink in, and then it was on to rehearsal. I’m a fan of Joan’s work and found the most enjoyable aspect is the writing, and attempting to be as accurate as I can with the text. She is a craftsperson in terms of her writing and it has an elegant style and rhythm to it. I try to honour the text in my performance – the punctuation, the ellipsis, and the rhythm.. to lift it off the page and give it meaning and life. It’s a conversational piece, I ask a lot of rhetorical questions of the audience.. of course I want to engage with the audience.

How does your audience influence performance as a solo artist, if at all?

I really want to connect and be sensitive to what is out there, but my performance is not necessarily altered by the audience, it is always artful and theatrical. Being on tour, each theatre is different, the audience is seated differently so for each theatre I change the way I focus… it’s more of a technical thing.

The main thing I love is the writing and the world it brings.

Lastly, how have you enjoyed touring regionally? Are you looking forward to visiting Maleny?

I love it, I absolutely love it. When I’m on tour it’s just me, my suitcase and script, and it gives me an even greater luxury to prepare for the performance. It’s been so good, especially after COVID and being based in Melbourne, to be taking a beautiful show to all these different places.

I can’t wait to visit Maleny and I am actually having a talk with the audience after the show, which I only do at a select few shows. I’m a big fan of Joan’s work, so I’m very eager to hear from like-minded fans.

Tickets to the critically-acclaimed ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ are available at www.trybooking.com/events/landing?eid=903994&