A graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Sonia has worked extensively in television, theatre, and film. Whilst at NIDA, she was one of the group of students (including Baz Luhrmann) who devised the play Strictly Ballroom in which she subsequently starred.
Sonia is best known for her appearances in McLeod’s Daughters, Police Rescue for which she won an AFI Award in 1991 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Rake (Series 1, 2 & 4) alongside Richard Roxburgh and The Potato Factory for which she received an AFI Award Nomination. She most recently appeared in a regular role on the long-running series Home and Away for the Seven Network and in the ABC series Janet King. Her other notable television credits include GP, Come In Spinner, A Country Practice, Mother and Son, Over The Hill, Heat, Water Rats, Simone De Beauvoir’s Babies, Halifax F.P. and All Saints.
Sonia’s many stage credits include appearances in The Winter’s Tale, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Golden Age for the Nimrod Theatre Company and Harold In Italy for the Sydney Theatre Company. Her other theatre credits include Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Table For One. In 2014 she completed a successful tour of A Murder Is Announced directed by Darren Yap to the Canberra Theatre.
Her film credits include Shine opposite Geoffrey Rush and Rescue – The Movie directed by Michael Carson.
The Street talked to Sonia Todd, the actor playing Edith Campbell Berry in Cold Light before the world premiere season in March 2017.
YOU WORK ACROSS THE STAGE, TV AND FILM – CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE PLACE AND EXPERIENCE OF THEATRE FOR YOU IN THE MIX.
It can seem as though actors may exercise control over their careers but it is often the case that our careers choose us. After leaving NIDA I was able to work quite extensively in theatre for some years. However once I started working in film and television I was fortunate enough to keep being offered work there. The downside was that it was not possible to do as much theatre as I would have liked. Working on Cold Light has reminded me how nourishing for the soul working in theatre can be when it’s at its best – when you have great material shaped so well into a play. When you have an intelligent, perceptive director and a cast where trust is given freely from day one. I am so enjoying the process of bringing Cold Light to the stage.
WHY DID YOU TAKE ON THE ROLE OF EDITH CAMPBELL BERRY?
I am always up for a challenge! Edith Campbell Berry is such an exciting, unconventional, intelligent and dynamic woman. The role offers a daunting challenge but when the character is so inspiring it does give you, the actor, courage to be as brave as the character you’re bringing to life. To be honest though, it wasn’t until I met with the script- writer Alana Valentine and director Caroline Stacey, that I felt confident enough to take on the role. If you are going to put yourself out there as an actor you need to feel you are in good hands. Meeting them both and listening to their vision of the piece allayed the fears I had of taking on the role.
HOW, AS AN ACTOR, DO YOU NEGOTIATE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NOVEL AND PLAY WHEN TAKING ON SUCH AN ICONIC CHARACTER?
I have been hired to play Edith in a play and so the play is what has to work. I think Alana has done a terrific job distilling the essence of Edith and her life from the book as well as offering a dynamic theatrical experience for the audience. The bonus for me is that I can use the book to enrich the inner life and thoughts of Edith on stage. I can know every single second what is going through her mind, body and soul because of the book. I’m so fortunate in that regard. However it also gives me no excuses!
TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS IN BRINGING EDITH TO LIFE?
Edith is an intelligent woman who engages fully with the world. The period of time covered within the play is substantial. This means much research needed to be done before commencing rehearsals and continues throughout the process. It can also be tempting to rush to a complete and fixed view of the character throughout the play. It really requires an actor to stay open to possibilities for as long as possible and then identifying the point at which things need to become firmer and decisions need to be made. Staying “in the grey” goes very much against how we live our lives these days but it can be fun and you can make some great discoveries during the rehearsal process with the input and help of all the cast.
THERE ARE SIX ACTORS IN THE WORK WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOVERED TOGETHER IN THE FIRST WEEK OF REHEARSAL?
It would be true to say that we are continuing to discover how rich the play is and how exciting it is to see more and more depth revealed as we progress through the work. There are beautifully created counterpoints and resonances throughout the play. I think we are all quite in awe of the world of the play. It is a vast world we find ourselves in – geographically, in terms of time and also in terms of the emotional life of Edith and the other characters. This has been very bonding for us as we start the journey of realising the play. There is a great sense of play and trust in the rehearsal room.
WHERE DOES SONIA TODD MEET EDITH CAMPBELL BERRY?
In my heart. And in my head. The characters I have played in the past are often better, bigger, brighter, more courageous and stronger than I could ever be in my life. Edith certainly is. However I am grateful for a rich imagination and I respond strongly to the opportunity to walk in her heels and feel the strength and powerful vision that is intrinsic to her. It is a wonderful license – to be given the opportunity to take on the world and live a life in an original and unconventional way.
THE WORK DEALS WITH AMBITION, WOMEN, AND PEOPLE OF DIFFERENCE – IS COLD LIGHT A WORK FOR OUR TIMES?
Frank Moorhouse and Alana Valentine have created and adapted Edith within the very specific world of Cold Light. The time frame and real life characters have been meticulously researched. Edith is a fictional character sitting within this reality. What drives Edith is specific and yes relatable to those of us who feel we have something to contribute to the world. What happens when we are thwarted and our vision and input are not given agency? In a very real sense then, it is absolutely a work for any time because that emotional need is so often there for many people. Politically, there are some salient resonances of the past that are relevant today also.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?
From my point of view it is essential for me to listen to the director’s vision and what is informing the work for them. I guess this comes from having worked with camera for a substantial period of time. Camera is very much the director’s medium and getting “on board” their vision is the most helpful thing you can do for yourself as an actor if you don’t want to be a problem for the director and end up on the cutting room floor. I then try and work as creatively as possible within that vision. I enjoy trying to surprise the director, where possible, with options they may not have thought of but always in a way that will fit in with their ideas. Mind you, it took me a while to learn this.
I find this approach works well for theatre too. I’ll get more ideas by listening than I will by just espousing my own. It is obviously important to feel you can trust the director – that they have done their work and have a vision and commitment to the work that is original and appropriate.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR FROM AN AUDIENCE?
That they come with an open mind and an open heart thereby allowing themselves to be transported into another world for a while. Also that they please turn off their mobile phones.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
My total creative being is happily ensconced in the world of Cold Light at the moment. However I am looking forward to exploring the National Art Gallery in the coming weeks as well as The Portrait Gallery. On a completely different note I was amazed at the headdresses I saw recently in the museum in Vanuatu. They were worn by chiefs in special ceremonies and were so colourful and evocative. Each one was unique and special. I will never forget them or the impact of them.