The rise and rise of Amber McMahon

Amber McMahon’s admission to Flinders Drama Centre was accidental.

“I actually had law and forensic science as my first and second preferences,” Ms McMahon says on the phone from Sydney, where she is performing alongside Cate Blanchett in Sydney Theatre Company’s mammoth production, The War of the Roses.

“While I always enjoyed drama as a kid, I really didn’t expect to do it for a living. But a friend asked me to audition for the acting course with her. I got in – but she didn’t!”

It was the first in a series of “right place, right time” experiences that have taken Ms McMahon a long way from late night cabaret shows during the Adelaide Fringe as a new drama graduate.

“The Flinders course is fabulous,” she says.

“We were given the chance to develop our own material, and we were taught that you need to proactive as an actor.

“When you graduate, you’re just itching to work.”

On the strength of her cabaret performances, Ms McMahon was invited to audition for State Theatre Company of South Australia (STCSA). Her first “big break” came with the role of Catherine in Proof, played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the 2005 film version.

Other roles followed with STCSA, Windmill Performing Arts and Queensland Theatre Company.
She met director Chris Mead at the famed annual Australian National Playwrights’ Conference. He asked her to act in a play he was directing in Sydney, where a scout from Sydney Theatre Company (STC) saw her. A call came from (then STC artistic director) Robyn Nevin’s assistant, asking her to audition.
“I thought I was auditioning for a role,” Ms McMahon says.

Instead, she was offered a place in the STC’s Actors Company, a full-time ensemble of 12 actors including such luminaries as Pamela Rabe, John Gaden and Peter Carroll.

Over three years she has played all manner of roles, taught sign language to fellow company member Deborah Mailman, and performed the lead in The Lost Echo by Barrie Kosky and Tom Wright, in which she also sang music by Schubert and Cole Porter.

The War of the Roses is the STC Actors Company’s swansong; the ensemble will be replaced by a different model under Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton’s artistic directorship.

Ms McMahon says it has been a “phenomenal” experience but is now looking forward to the next phase of her career.

“I’ve got four weeks off before I go to Melbourne to perform in Optimism for Malthouse Theatre before the production to the Edinburgh Festival,” she says.

“After that, I’m hoping to have some time off just to sit and think.”

Caption: Amber McMahon (left) and Ewen Leslie in rehearsal for Sydney Theatre Company’s The War of the Roses. Photo by Brett Boardman.

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