Staging Kate by Bri Lee (extract)

Writer and actor Kate Mulvany defies the neat stories people write about her.

Kate Mulvany, 2020, photo by Joy Lai

Kate Mulvany, 2020, photo by Joy Lai

There is a particular type of story often told about Kate Mulvany, who this year received both the Mona Brand Award for women writers of stage and screen and a Medal of the Order of Australia. The story is a flattering one, of course: a bit of the beloved ‘underdog’ triumphing, plus a dash of the Australian Dream’s glorious vision of upward mobility. Perhaps it’s a variation of the ‘rags-to-riches’ we’re so accustomed to accepting in showbiz, and an enduring adoration of the country girl — the romantic vision of the poet from the regions.  

I’m not interested in fitting Mulvany’s life into this plot, even though it’s hard to resist. When we meet someone whose story seems almost impossibly full of grit and glory, we often have to put it into some kind of labelled package to make sense of it all. ‘Everyone loves a peak,’ she says, ‘especially when it’s “the country girl beating cancer” but it’s the 16 hours a day at the desk stuff that they miss out on. Overnight success just doesn’t really exist.’ 


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