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Cate slips in for Secret Canberra show

Cate Blanchett arrives at the Canberra Theatre see a "the secret river" performed in the Playhouse.

Cate Blanchett arrives at the Canberra Theatre see a "the secret river" performed in the Playhouse. Photo: Melissa Adams

Canberra’s centenary celebrations took a star turn on Thursday night when acclaimed actress Cate Blanchett attended the premiere of The Secret River at the Playhouse.

Sydney Theatre Company director Neil Armfield is at the helm of the play which has been adapted from  Kate Grenville’s novel for the stage by Andrew Bovell.

Blanchett told the crowd after the show that the production had "lifted off because audiences were ready to hear this story".

Cate Blanchett arrives at the Canberra Theatre see a "the secret river" performed in the Playhouse.

Cate Blanchett arrives at the Canberra Theatre see a "the secret river" performed in the Playhouse. Photo: Melissa Adams

Thursday night’s Canberra Theatre Centre  premiere attracted a who’s who of Canberra society with federal politicians among those mingling before the curtain was drawn.

Armfield  – an STC alumni with Blanchett – said he was never sure  Grenville’s novel could be adapted for the stage but he and Bovell always thought someone would wake up to the idea it was untranslatable to the stage – "or we would".

It wasn’t  until centenary creative director Robyn Archer announced last year that the play would be part of Collected Works: Australia 2013 at the Canberra Theatre Centre that it sank in. "Really, we went 'F---! We’re actually doing this.' "

Armfield and  Bovell need not have worried. The play finished a successful season in Sydney last week before opening its sold-out season in Canberra.

The story is about two civilisations in early 19th-century Australia: the ancient Aboriginal culture represented by a Dharug family on the Hawkesbury River and the European settlers, represented by ex-convict William Thornhill and his family. In the book, the Dharug characters are seen through  white people’s eyes but Armfield said in the play they "had to be given independent life".

But, as Armfield said, "It’s a story about a moment in Australian history when things could have developed very differently ...  I feel like it sits on the fault line of our culture."

The Secret River is on at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre until February 17. The season is sold out but for news of any tickets that become available visit facebook.com/canberratheatrecentre

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