The Book Club
Amanda Muggleton in The Book Club.
Amanda Muggleton does not belong to a book club.
''I'm never in one place long enough,'' she says.
And that's understandable: she's a busy actor with a career spanning more than three decades in theatre, television and film. But if she can't be in a real book club, she can at least perform in a play about one. She's been touring in The Book Club, on and off, since 2008.
New Zealander Roger Hall's play had been around for several years before Muggleton got it, and has been periodically updated since by Rodney Fisher with the author's blessing to add recently popular books. Among those featured this time are The Slap, the much-discussed Australian novel which was adapted for ABC TV, Anna Karenina, the classic made into a recent film, and Fifty Shades of Grey (''What can I say?'' Muggleton quips). In the one-woman show, Muggleton plays middle-class housewife and mother Deborah, a confessed bookaholic who has fantasies about John Updike and Martin Amis.
With her youngest daughter having left home and her husband Wally never around - he's indulging his midlife crisis with endless games of golf and tennis - Deborah turns to her book club for stimulation and distraction. The ladies - all very specific types - take it in turns to host, there's plenty of food and wine, and it's as much about gossip as literature.
But when it's Deborah's turn to host, and a famous male Australian writer is invited to come and speak, it becomes something much more for her - something closer to erotic fiction.
''The other women are asking, 'Does he like me?' and I don't realise he's interested in me until he makes a shock offer.
''The bonking scene is the funniest thing I've ever had to do on stage,'' Muggleton says.
''It's a very, very funny play.''
She's no stranger to one-woman performances - Shirley Valentine and Master Class are among her other successful plays - and she won't have the impediment she had in Perth - a broken foot.
''I had to do Book Club in a moon boot. It was packed - the show must go on, I certainly wasn't going to let the audience down.''
She jokes, ''They'd all come to see a production of The Book Club, and what they came to see was My Left Foot.''
Ever the trouper she got through it, though she says, ''I can't wait to get back into my high heels.''
One of the reasons Muggleton has persisted with The Book Club is pragmatic: ''I want to work!''
Like many female actors of mature years, she says there aren't many good roles around for her.
Exactly how mature, she won't let on, but is charming about it: ''My mother said, 'Don't ever tell anyone how old you are.'''
But another reason to do this play for the actor - an avid reader herself - is ''trying to get people, especially young people, interested in reading books''.
And, not so incidentally, in seeing theatre.
''The Book Club is more about the people than the books,'' she says.
''The books are not the essence of the play - if people got the idea it was going to be an intellectual night they'd stay away in droves. […] The general public love it.''
Muggleton was born in Britain and came to Australia with an English theatre company in the 1970s. She decided she liked it here - ''the light!'' is one reason - and soon returned to live.
She is full of stories of the hazards of live performance, especially one-woman shows.
Audience members become so involved in the play they forget where they are, sometimes talking to her or otherwise acting a little oddly. Once, she remembers, she was doing Shirley Valentine where in one scene she pops out without any clothes on - and a man in the second row took a photo of her.
''I said, 'Give it to me,' and gave the camera to the stage manager.''
Afterwards, talking to the rogue snapper, she found out his wife was a fan of her work in Prisoner.
She asked him why he had taken a photo of her then and he replied, ''Well, I didn't know you were going to show up naked!''
We'll have to wait and see if anything like that happens with The Book Club here.
But if the unexpected does occur, there's no doubt Muggleton will be able to handle it with aplomb.
- The Book Club. By Rodney Fisher, from the play by Roger Hall. Directed by Rodney Fisher. Hit Productions. The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. October 3 and 5 at 2pm and 8pm, October 4 at 8pm. Not suitable for children. Tickets $43-$53. Bookings: theq.net.au or 6285 6290.