Taking the lead in poetic adaptation

Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths
Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths will play the lead role of Alex in Wild Surmise. Photo: Garth Oriander

Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths will play the lead role of Alex in Wild Surmise. Photo: Garth Oriander

A dramatic adaptation of a verse novel by one of Australia’s most inventive poets will feature a Monash University staff member in the lead role.

Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths from the Monash Department of Theatre and Performance will play Alex in the first adaptation of Dorothy Porter’s Wild Surmise, to be performed at the Malthouse Theatre.

Dr Griffiths, a great fan of Porter’s work, said she was curious about the feasibility of adapting Wild Surmise for the stage so was delighted when the late poet’s partner, Andrea Goldsmith, allowed her the adaptation rights.

“Adapting the work has allowed me to explore the performativity of poetry when embodied in the theatre,” Dr Griffiths said.

“I took the idea to Malthouse Artistic Director Marion Potts. Marion and I had worked together on my ARC Linkage project, Sappho…in 9 fragments, which she directed in 2010. After that very enjoyable and fruitful collaboration – again about the performative possibilities of poetry – it seemed that this was a natural progression for us both.”

Wild Surmise is a compilation of poems chronicling the life and experiences of astronomer Alex Leefson (played by Dr Griffiths) and her literary-loving husband, Daniel (Humphrey Bower).

Dr Griffiths is looking forward to using her acting muscles.

“I’ve something of a fascination with female astronomers after writing a play about the ancient astronomer Hypatia. Alex is no Hypatia: she’s deeply flawed and unwittingly selfish but I suppose I like her restless yearning for what is beyond life as we know it,” Dr Griffiths said.

Away from the theatre, Dr Griffiths is about to record her play about Hypatia for Radio National, a project supported by Monash Academy of Performing Arts through its Three for Free series.

“It is great to see how the University’s practice research culture fosters projects that can have a wider dissemination to the general public. For academia it’s a new – and I think very exciting – way of looking at how and what academics can ‘publish’,” Dr Griffiths said.

“For me, practice-based research and traditional scholarship go hand in hand. That’s the terrific thing about practice research in the university context – we can find ways of braiding together different methodologies that still retain rigour. Monash has been incredibly supportive in facilitating that kind of research.”

Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths will star in Wild Surmise at the Beckett Theatre, The Malthouse from 9 November until 2 December, with opening night on Thursday 15 November.