Jamaican-Born Actress Takes On Groundbreaking Role In Australian Classic

Zahra Newman, a Jamaican-born actress, has collaborated with Declan Greene from the Melbourne, Australia, theater scene, to create a one-person show based on the classic Australian novel “Wake in Fright” by Kenneth Cook. The novel, which was released in 1951, prompted an examination of the country’s national identity via its depiction of masculinity. A 1971 film based on the novel became a cult favorite, and it was this film that caught the attention of Greene, who was fascinated by the response the film elicited from viewers. Working together, Greene and Newman have provided a new take on the story. As the original story centers on a group of white male actors, it was especially challenging for Newman, who provides a new context for the tale in the one-person show.

In creating the story’s relevance to the present day, Greene and Newman returned to passages in the book that discussed what it is like to be a cultural outsider in a location like Australia and how a person changes in response to a need for safety and hospitality. Newman relied on her own experience. She moved to Brisbane in Australia at the age of 14 and had direct knowledge of this dynamic, which allowed her to explore it easily as an actress.

Zahra Newman took on the one-person show following a role in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Sydney Theater Company. Her performance in the radical new adaptation of the Australian classic represented a major change as she plays all the characters in “Wake in Flight.” She had her doubts about taking on the iconic tale, telling an interviewer, “Initially I had apprehensions… I’m an immigrant female doing a classic Australian text about Australians.”

Zahra Newman was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, and grew up in Kingston. She moved to Australia with her mother when she was 14. Newman’s interest in the performing arts developed through her relationship with Father Ho Lung and Friends, a Caribbean-style music and theater arts group associated with Missionaries of the Poor. She also performed with the Harvest Rain Theater Company. She graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2008 and has appeared in numerous productions at leading theater companies in Australia during her career.

Photo Source: Malthouse Theatre