You may have passed her on your way through the Menzies building or listened to her passionate depictions of classicist drama, but now Associate Professor Jane Montgomery Griffiths is readying herself for a role in MTC’s production of Macbeth. She plays one of the infamous witches. Recently having the pleasure to speak to Montgomery Griffiths, I realised that there is much more to her than merely a list of performances under her belt.
A decade-long career on the stage in the United Kingdom means Jane Montgomery Griffiths is no newcomer to the theatre, emerging as a thespian in her final year as a Cambridge student. Entranced by the power of Greek classic drama, such as Electra and Antigone, Montgomery Griffiths notes how the “theatre bug bit and did not let go.” You only need mention Sophocles or Euripides and her enthusiasm for the “dynamism and radicalism” of these masterminds becomes evident – alongside her obvious academic prowess as a classicist.
Transferring her talents into the academic sphere, after moving away from the United Kingdom, Montgomery Griffiths recalls her sadness at leaving professional theatre, due to the sparseness of attention that non-musical theatre commands in Australia. In fact, in “ten years as an actress [she was] only unemployed for a few months combined.” In Melbourne, only two companies (MTC or Malthouse) consistently pay for professional plays, and that number is higher than the one theatre company in Adelaide or Sydney. However, as the Head of the Centre for Theatre and Performance at Monash, you would be hard-pressed to say that Montgomery Griffiths’s transition into academics was anything but successful.
Despite moving into academia, Montgomery Griffiths never lost the urge to act, recalling how she was approached to write Sappho…in 9 fragments due to her proficiency “as a classicist, not an actress.” She ended up also with the star role after the lead actress dropped out of the production. The play, which was nominated for the Victorian and NSW Premiers’ Literary Awards, marked a strong return to the stage, with subsequent appearances in Frankenstein, Antigone, Electra and King Lear.
Her most recent appearance, as an academic suffering from serious cancer in Wit, deserves significant attention, as for Montgomery Griffiths’s devotion to the craft. Recognising what she deemed her “duty to those with cancer,” as well as those who have passed away or previously affected by the disease, Montgomery Griffiths strove to understand the complexities of the character, before shaving all of her hair and losing weight in order to embody the character. Now, Montgomery Griffiths acknowledges that “we could be the same person, in a parallel universe.” Such is the bond she shares with the person that she played.
As a fixture in Simon Phillip’s Macbeth, Montgomery Griffiths recognises “the importance of driving the action” in what she can only describe as a dynamic and action-focused adaptation of the renowned play. Citing that whilst the play has taken “no liberties to adapt the Shakespearian language” or setting, Montgomery Griffiths states that the production is contemporary and modern, suiting the casting of action — star Jai Courtney, as Macbeth himself.
Working with a powerhouse theatrical team including Phillips, Courtney, and Geraldine Hakewill, may be daunting to some. For Montgomery Griffiths, the rehearsal room can only be described as “delightful and fun” – an experience for which she was grateful.
A humble person who views her ability to connect with the audience as a privilege, Montgomery Griffiths has been totally unchanged by her successes as a thespian and an academic.
Macbeth is running from June 5 until July 17 at Southbank Theatre and tickets are selling fast. Buy tickets through the MTC website, or use this link https://tickets.mtc.com.au/production/12529. Remember to use student discounts for what promises to be a gripping night of entertainment!