Brilliant lead for young actress

Molly England as Sybylla and the cast of a local production of My Brilliant Career. (Emma Watson)

By Luke Voogt

Molly England’s debut lead role in a classic Australian tale is all the more special after surviving and thriving in her final year at high school in 2020.

“It definitely feels sacred to be in a theatre this year,” England said last Friday, after just turning 19.

“We started rehearsals in early July and got four or five in, and then the snap lockdown happened.

“It’s hard, because a lot of the cast are working full-time and giving up their free time.

“We were actually just back in the rehearsal room last night. The energy was so high and everybody was smiling.

“I can’t walk into a rehearsal without smiling,” she added, laughing.

“My director Christine is like, ‘this is a serious moment Molly, you need to stop smiling!’”

England will play the headstrong and free-spirited Sybylla Melvyn, in Skin of Our Teeth’s local production of My Brilliant Career.

The play is based on Stella Franklin’s 1901 novel, made into a film in 1979, about Sybylla’s adventures in rural 1890s Australia.

“She has the most hilariously heightened lexicon for someone who lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere,” England said.

“The whole book is a love letter to the Australian landscape and being a young woman. But this is not a romance.”

The play follows Sybylla as drought and her father’s poor business decisions force her to live with her grandmother, and later work as a governess for an illiterate neighbour.

“The kids are feral and they have no dignity in their living at all, but their morals are really strong,” England said.

“The kindness they show her, she couldn’t get anywhere else in her journey.”

Sybylla must choose between her desire to love and her dream of becoming a writer when she meets wealthy young Harold Beecham.

“You get to watch her struggle with the social expectations of her time – there were so many expectations in those days on what a women can be,” England said.

These expectations are the same that confronted her creator Stella Franklin, who wrote books under the pseudonym Miles Franklin.

“She was so ahead of her time,” England said.

While society has come a long way since, the play’s themes remain relevant for expectations Australian businesswomen, mothers and women in general face today, according to England.

The play is just her second production outside her high school, Christian College, where she first discovered her love of theatre.

“The teachers there created a space that was a really powerful thing to be part of,” she said.

“All of these skills like public speaking, collaboration and learning to listen to people amalgamated into this wonderful thing called acting.”

She studied drama on her way to a 97.2 ATAR in year 12, giving up community theatre for 2020 to “narrow in on school drama projects”.

“I was a bit shocked with how I went,” she said.

“I knew that if I was going to maintain my sanity through year 12 I had to choose things I enjoyed.

“I managed to get a good mark because I worked really hard and really enjoyed what I was doing.”

She began studying at the University of Melbourne this year, and hopes to begin theatre class next year.

“That’s what I find joy in and what I love to do,” she said.

She cannot wait to share Sybylla’s story when My Brilliant Career plays at Waurn Ponds Hall from August 14 to 29.

“Storytelling will always overcome any situation we’re put in, because it’s integral to who we are,” she said.