Ursula Yovich farewells the stage

This week celebrated Aboriginal actor Ursula Yovich will perform on stage for the final time.
Ursula Yovich farewells the stage

Ursula Yovich on stage for the final time in Man with the Iron Neck. Image: Darwin Festival

Yovich, 41, announced she’ll retire from theatre after the Darwin Festival season of The Man with the Iron Neck, the acclaimed show she wrote for physical theatre company Legs on the Wall, which is in the final leg of a national tour.

Speaking from Broome, where she is filming season 2 of ABC-TV’s hit series Mystery Road, Yovich was in a reflective mood. ‘It’s really beautiful here,’ she said. ‘I was sitting here overlooking the ocean, thinking, this should be something that everyone should have. I don’t get to do a lot of this when I’m in Sydney.’

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A Burarra and Serbian performer, Yovich was raised in Darwin. She studied at the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts in Brisbane before embarking on her multi-award-winning career. Over the past 20 years she has worked as an actor, singer and, more recently, writer, in theatre, television and film.

Her film performance credits  include Wayne Blair’s Top End Wedding, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, Ivan Sen’s Goldstone and Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne, while on the small screen she acted in The Code, Devil’s Dust, Redfern Now, The Gods of Wheat Street and, most recently, the third series of Wanted. Since making her theatre debut at Belvoir St, Yovich has worked for all the major main stage theatre companies.

As a singer, Yovich intermittently toured for nearly a decade  through Australia and internationally between 2008 and 2017 with the musicians of Black Arm Band.

She’s going out on a high. Her first play, the music theatre hit Barbara and the Camp Dogs co-written with Alana Valentine, scooped up four Helpmann awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score, and was shortlisted for Premier’s Literary Awards in NSW and Victoria. As with Man with the Iron Neck, her second play, she both wrote and performed it.

'I’m not old. But acting on stage takes it out of you.'

Now, says Yovich, it’s time to move on. ‘I don’t think I’m leaving the theatre prematurely,’ she said. ‘It’s something I’ve been talking about for many years, but somehow I just kept coming back. With Barbara and the Camp Dogs and Man with the Iron Neck, I didn’t want to step back before I got those two shows on.’

Anyone who has seen Yovich on stage will be sad that she’s leaving: she won a Helpmann for her role in Barbara and the Camp Dogs for a reason. Playing Barbara, an explosive rock chick ruled by her anger, Yovich was an incandescent presence, fierce, honest and vulnerable.

Such is the energy she pours into her roles, it’s unsurprising to hear why she’s she leaving the stage. It's the exhaustion. ‘I’m not old,’ she says. ‘But acting on stage takes it out of you.’

Asked if she might come back to stage if there was a really exciting project, she laughed. ‘Don’t make this hard for me,’ she said. ‘No, I’m pretty sure. If I’m honest, what I enjoy in theatre is the process of bringing plays together. For me, it’s all about the process of getting there, it's not so much about being on stage.’

She says she’ll miss the people most. ‘The thing I really loved about doing different shows was the chance to meet new performers. I’ve met some amazing people over the years. It’s been such an honour.’

However, it doesn’t sound as if Yovich will find a lot of time to admire the view in the future. Although she can’t talk about them yet, Yovich is working on projects for both television and film. ‘It’s still early days,’ she says. ‘And I’m not sure what I’ll find myself doing.’

Although there'll be more writing in the future, Yovich has has no intention of giving up acting altogether. ‘It’s been a long and slow decision, but it’s time for me to find other avenues to express myself,' she says. 'I still have a lot of faith in acting and writing, I still want to do them for my spirit.’

Alison Croggon

Saturday 17 August, 2019

About the author

Alison Croggon is an award-winning novelist, poet, theatre writer and critic. She has 30 years experience reviewing performance for outlets such as The Australian, the ABC and The Monthly and generated an international reputation as a performance critic with her influential blog Theatre Notes. In 2009 she was the first online critic to win the prestigious Geraldine Pascall Critic of the Year Award.
Twitter: @alisoncroggon