Noli Me Tangere at Riverside Theatres
Based on the Philippines’ national novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by Dr Jose P Rizal, a man returns to his homeland after years away. What has become of his beloved, and why has his father died in mysterious circumstances? Instead of taking revenge when he learns of a terrible injustice, he commits himself to changing the world through reason, not violence. Can a dream like this come true?
James spoke to actor Susana Downes about the World Premiere of this adaptation and the importance of bringing Filipino stories to the stage. Read the full interview below:
What drew you to Noli Me Tangere, and how did you become involved in this production?
I was actually invited to be a part of the first staged reading back in 2016! I was an ensemble member for the first one and then was lucky to be invited back later that year for the 2nd reading as Maria Clara! I loved the role since then and have been so lucky to be back for the premiere!
Noli Me Tangere is a musical adapted from a novel of the same name, which is a classic tale written by national hero of the Phillipines Jose Rizal. What significance does this show hold for you as a Filipino-Australian actress?
It gives me that chance to connect with my Filipino roots! I’ve been lucky to have grown up in such a Filipino enriched family; travelling to the Philippines and getting to be in a pageant about being Filipino-Australian. I get to play a character that is of my heritage, but I also get to know the same story that my mum grew up learning at school.
As part of a world premiere for a musical take on this show, how did you approach piecing together the character of Maria? Have you faced any challenges throughout this rehearsal process?
By looking at the text (both the original novel and script) and talking to my mum and cousins who studied the novel at school, I was able to get a background on Maria Clara. She’s strong, stands up to others with her passion and conviction in those that she loves. She’s got a real heart and helps those who are considered “beneath her”. It was really easy to bring those qualities, as I feel like I have those similar qualities. If there were a Filipino Disney Princess, Maria Clara would totally be her! A woman with conviction!
How does this current take on the story of Noli Me Tangere differ from its previous Operatic versions? What can audiences expect from this production?
We break it up with the dialogue, rather than being sung all the way through, so it gives the audience a chance to experience the characters further. It also helps being sung/spoken in English for the audience members that aren’t Filipino/speak Tagalog.
Why is it important to bring Filipino theatre to the Australian theatre community? How do you think Sydney audiences will respond to this work?
Filipinos are such a giant community here! We should be telling our stories and showing this country that there is such a history that most people wouldn’t know the Philippines! It’s such a gorgeous patriotic show to the Philippines as well, as it was written by one of the Philippines’ national heros, Jose Rizal.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you’ve ever seen?
On Your Feet: The Gloria Estefan musical – I watched it twice!
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Either New York or Japan
Dream show/role to perform in?
I’d love to be Eliza in Hamilton, or Eponine in Les Miserables
Plays or musicals?
Musicals – singing will always be my first love
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
So many! Knitting, baking, video games, makeup and editing videos!
What’s next for you after this show?
I’ll be competing in the Miss Earth Australia beauty pageant in September, but who knows what’s coming in between!
Noli Me Tangere opens at the Riverside Theatres in Parramatta on March 30 2019. You can get your tickets here.