5 star theatre reviews Sydney Australia

This is a fabulous book, intimately, terrifically written. Heather Mitchell comes across as an extremely kind, loving person, dedicated to her art. She is also an ailurophile ( cat lover). It is a meditation on the ups and downs of life, of love, of death and of being a mother. The book however is at times shocking and disturbing with what she has had to endure and also impresses with her bravery and resilience in surviving breast cancer.

The book is divided into three parts, consists of fourteen chapters and has a prologue and epilogue, with acknowledgements at the back – but no index! (which it needs). Photographs are included in the middle.

Mitchell is one of Australia’s most acclaimed theatrical and film stars. Her film credits range from Proof  and Malcolm  to Muriel’s Wedding, The Great Gatsby and many more.

Mitchell has been a mainstay of Australian television, appearing in everything from A Country Practice to Spellbinder, Rake, Underbelly, A Place to Call Home, Harrow, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and, most recently, The Secrets She Keeps, The Unusual Suspects and Love Me.

On stage, Mitchell has performed in more than fifty theatre productions – including her most recent performance as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the one-woman show RBG: Of Many, One – that had rave reviews and she is a director of the Sydney Theatre Company. In 2020, she received an Order of Australia for service to the performing arts and the community.

Mitchell’s book is in three sections Girl, Woman, and Mother, with significant moments of her life in mainly chronological order. Behind the scenes of her performances her private life has taken many remarkable twists and turns.

In the first section, Girl , we learn about her family and her youth and childhood. The book opens dramatically with the death of her mother while Mitchell was struggling with HSC trials. We learn about her family – her loving, intrepid, cultivated, activist mother Shirley, of Jewish origin, who travelled to Shanghai in the mid 1940’s. She was a great cook who ‘collected people’, especially ‘outsiders’. Through a cousin of Shirley’s the family got to meet the Beatles on their 1964 Australian tour. Shirley never told Heather she was ill and dying of leukaemia.

We learn about her father, Arthur, always known as Red, generous, affectionate and compassionate, of Quaker background. Then there is her eccentric aunt Rosemary, always smiling, constantly with her camera, yet hiding despair and tragedy, and another of  Mitchell’s  aunts, Audree .

We learn about the sisters, cousins. aunts and the family tensions and interactions. Mitchell has a sister Rosemary and a brother Steven.

The complex facets of life are discussed – various options, joys, sorrows, enigmas, while Mitchell creates a loving picture of her family and reveals more of her own life.

There is perhaps a change not in tone but in the structure of the other two sections, Woman and Mother. Various events in Mitchell’s life are integrated by theme to muse on the larger demands of moral integrity. There  is a section about when her  menses first hit, leading on to a discourse on sexual assault, the rapes and near rapes,  other sexual abuse and misogyny, all of which Mitchell has experienced . A section about being rejected by a casting agent turns into a discussion about beneficence and empathy.

In Mother among other things mentioned are her huge love for her husband Martin (Marty) and their two boys Finn and Seamus, how tired being a mum can make you, and the general stresses of being a parent, especially when one has a sick child, and trying to juggle family life and work successfully.

Mitchell also writes about how she develops a character for the stage or film, and about ‘drying’ during a performance.

How Mitchell deals with and fights breast cancer, nearly dying, and losing all her body hair at one stage, is also described in quite a detailed manner.

Mitchell much prefers the mantra ‘live every day as if it’s your first ‘to ‘live every day as if it was your last’. She considers herself very lucky with the support given to her by family, friends, and medical teams, all of whom she considers she has been ‘gifted ‘with. At times she still ‘hears’ her mother Shirley. The supernatural is also a feature of this book. Mitchell writes about having a session with a spot on clairvoyant. Red appearing soon after she and her sister were in a minor car accident as he just had a feeling he needed to get home. Also there’s her son, Finn, whose behaviour seemed to eerily sense ‘dead babies’ in a room they later discovered was where abortions were performed. She also asks why older people become ‘invisible’ and reflects on the amazing beauty and symmetry of the human body.

A dynamic, riveting, intimately revealing autobiography. It makes for compelling reading.



Featured image : Heather Mitchell in much lauded role as RBG in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of ‘RBG Of Many, One’. Pic Prudence Upton