Heidi Manché: Room to Play

Margaret Helman
21st Sep 2015

Mark that name. Sydneysiders can be forgiven for not having Heidi Manché's name 'top of mind'. She has been studying and working overseas and now she is based in Brisbane.

She is a talented, can do, intelligent young woman who is focused on a marathon journey to direct and produce the best contemporary Australian plays alongside contemporary European writers.

I met Heidi in Sydney this month. Her production company Room to Play was selected by the recent Sydney Fringe Festival to play Afterplay - a one-act play - written by contemporary Irish writer Brian Friels in 2002.

The play bestows upon two sidelined characters from two of Chekhov’s masterful works - Sonya from Uncle Vanya and Andrey from the Three Sisters an extention of their theatrical journey. They meet in a cafe in Moscow. Sonya's uncle Vanya has died and she is alone living in the family's large rural property, grappling with the responsibility of financial ruin or subdivision of the land to secure her financial future. Andrey is the brother of the three sisters - the children of a high-ranking army officer in Russia. His marriage has fallen apart after breaking down his relationship with his sisters and now - when he meets Sonya in the cafe in Moscow - he is a street busker - using his fortunate family inheritance of music training and an exquisite violin - to earn a living in the Moscow railway station and on the streets of Moscow.

Heidi and I discover that we are both enthralled by the structure of this play. We both know Chekhov’s work very well and we savour the chance that Afterplay gives us - an opportunity to continue our journey with two of Chekov's significant characters.

I asked Heidi what she thought attracted Brian Friels to write this work?   "Matters of the soul", she said and her eyes danced. We churned around ideas about culture and cultural inheritance and we agreed that there is a similarity in the intensity of the way the Irish and Russians value the human connection and its complexity. This surely we agreed was the deep attraction of Friels to Chekhov’s writing.

Heidi Manché studied arts and theatre at Sydney University. She was awarded a scholarship to study in Milan, Italy, under the guiding hand of the Nobel Prize winning director Dario Fo. She spent three years in Milan working alongside him.

Heidi said, "It was a magnificent opportunity to observe the ancient Italian style of his Commedia dell' Arte performances." Heidi also studied at La Sapienza University, Department of Theatre in Rome.

Heidi returned to Australia and in 2005 she produced and directed plays at the Crypt performance space in Balmain.

Meanwhile she returned to study and completed a Master of Arts at UTS, Sydney. In 2009 Heidi and her husband and three children migrated to Brisbane. Family life and her role as director of her performing arts production company have not prevented Heidi from returning to study and she is now studying psychology at Queensland University of Technology.

"I decided that if I want to work with actors and create characters I need to know more about human psychology," she said.

I came away from our meeting fulfilled by the opportunity to meet a woman of extraordinary substance, with a fertile mind of enquiry, vision and energy. We can all look forward with intrigue and anticipation to 'what Heidi does next’ in the theatre.