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Leah Purcell On … Rain Stopping Play at Almeida

Leah Purcell is an Australian actress whose screen credits include Somersault, The Proposition, Jindabyne and Lantana, which was scripted by Andrew Bovell. She's currently starring in Bovell's new play When the Rain Stops Falling, which opens at the Almeida Theatre this week (21 May 2009, previews from 14 May).

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It's a little bit tricky to explain the play because if I say too much I'll give the key turning points away. But briefly, the story spans over four generations – we start in late 1950s London and end up in Alice Springs, Australia in 2039. It's about the things that parents don't tell their children, the secrets that people have agreed not to talk about and how that silence has impacted other people's lives.

The plot centres on a young man who leaves England and tries to find some answers about his father, who left when he was seven years old. Along the way he meets a lot of people and the various stories intertwine as he unfolds the family secrets. It's about family, love, deception – all that good stuff. It's a bit of a puzzle, it's certainly not the kind of play where you sit there and just go through the motions.

If you know Andrew Bovell's writing, it's very similar to Lantana, so if you're a fan of that you'll love this. Lantana was actually my first film and it was absolutely awesome, it really put me on the map. After that for about five years I was doing a film every year so it was great to have that momentum and it kept me out of trouble!

I've always been a performer, my family were always born entertainers and I was lucky to be of a generation whereby I could capitalise on it. I came from a small country town in Queensland, so there wasn't a lot of hope that I was going to make it to the big stage. But I just kept my dream alive. I had a daughter when I was 17 and a week later my mum passed away, which was obviously a very dramatic time. She always told me to look out for myself and to do what I have to do in life to get on, so I decided to give the acting a proper go and moved down to Brisbane.

I never really had any proper training, it was all based on instinct and natural ability. I eventually got a job as a video jockey in Sydney, and when I got there I looked up all the casting agents who'd seen me performing in Brisbane. My first TV break was Police Rescue which was huge at the time. So that kind of got me out there and then I started doing a one-woman show, which premiered at the festival of the dreaming, which was one of the four festivals leading up to the 2000 Olympics. It was a festival of indigenous work and my mum was aboriginal so that was a special thing to be involved in, and led to an international tour including Edinburgh and the Barbican in London.

In terms of Australian compared to UK theatre, I'd say we have plenty of talent but not the number of venues you have over here. But in terms of skill we're definitely up there, and it makes me very proud to see the number of Australian actors making it big around the world. I'm loving my time in London, and would love to see When the Rain Stops Falling have a further life after the Almeida. Maybe we could nip in for a cheeky couple of weeks in the West End, and it work very well on screen – the first thing I said to Andrew in rehearsals was “where's the film script?!”

- Leah Purcell was speaking to Theo Bosanquet

When the Rain Stops Falling continues at the Almeida until 4 July 2009.


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