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Written from Experience: Winter's Discontent

William Zappa has been making the theatrical rounds for well over four decades, but still has enough spring in his step to write and perform a heartrending yet cheekily endearing one-man show. Winter’s Discontent, now on at the Darlinghurst Theatre, is the story of Robert Winter, a veteran performer preparing for yet another night beneath the always-judgmental spotlight. The character he is about to assume is an overbearing, postmodern, eighteenth century Frenchman born from the pages of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. However, while such preparation should be somewhat de rigueur, Winter finds himself evaluating his relationships, profession, choices and sanity.

William explains that Winter “is a bit of an everyman. He’s a reflection of conversations I’ve had with actors all my life and with many friends about their experiences and obviously my own experiences going to auditions and the frustration with the way work is going.” While William has always been a phenomenal actor, his ability to capture Winter’s very particular form of desperation – a combination of anger and exhausted acceptance – appears to be the result of experience rather than observation. Similarly, moments of mischievous joy bring a certain gleam to William’s eye, which could imply that he shares Winter’s experience of arriving stoned to drama school and abysmally performing the complex role of a dying tarantula.

While the writing may appear slightly erratic at moments, Winter’s Discontent is clearly a product of love, time and devotion. William points out that he “had an initial burst of writing because I was very excited by this particular piece. I think I wrote the first five pages in a day and then I stuck it in a draw and it languished there for about two and a half years.” When he finally returned to the work, it took him less than a week to complete the first draft. However, this does not mean the play is completely finished. “One of the great things about being a writer and the performer of the piece is not only is every performance and every audience different … but that as a writer I can respond to how the play is going over. So, in a sense, the play is continually evolving. It’s a privilege, really, to be able to make the adjustments.”

One aspect that certainly does not require excessive tweaking is Winter’s look and costume. Watching William’s character transform beneath white make up, wigs, and period costume is astounding; by the time he abandons the dressing room, it’s difficult to accept that another actor has not simply stepped in and stolen the role.

In the end though, William’s hope for Winter’s Discontent is that it resonates with the audience. “I’d like [the play] to actually allow people to reflect on sacrifice and aspirations and things like that, and to see how Winter’s story fits in with their own life.”

Winter’s Discontent is a stunningly intimate piece performed by a true theatrical veteran who knows how to dominate a stage and turn the simplest details into a charismatic drama. It’s on at the Darlinghurst Theatre until Sunday, 22 August. Tickets are available here.

words: Liz Schaffer


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