WHILE it’s only been two years since Miriam Margolyes became a citizen, she rightly deserves the status of gay Aussie icon — her relationship with an Australian woman is now in its 47th year.
In the midst of a national tour of her new autobiographical show, The Importance of Being Miriam, Margolyes has spent a lot of time looking back at a very full life.
It’s a far cry from her time working in queer theatre companies in late-1960s England, including the legendary Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company in London, and others.
“Gay liberation had really pushed along, and I was was part of a group called the Gay Yids, and we went around to synagogues—they had to be progressive synagogues, otherwise they wouldn’t have invited us—and we just sort of counselled people, and told stories to make people feel less alone,” Margolyes told the Star Observer, remembering how she felt being a part of the queer community back then.
“I was kind of intoxicated by it, really.”
Forty five-odd years is an aeon ago in terms of gay rights, but Margolyes said working in theatre meant she didn’t encounter much homophobia. On the contrary, she found much of her time involved in the queer community to be a lot of fun.
“We’re very lucky, those of us who work in theatre, because there isn’t any distinction really between gay and straight people—it’s just a world of theatre, and you belong,” she said.
Almost half a century later, at 73 Margolyes had been reflecting more and more on her life, and out of that grew The Importance of Being Miriam — two hours with the woman herself, pianist John Martin, and a whole host of her favourite characters. It’s a look back at her life though the characters and music she loves.
Director Peter Adams came to see Margolyes in London, and listened for five hours as she told him the story — or rather, stories — of her life. Those stories became the basis for what’s on the stage.
“It’s very strange, very strange indeed, because normally one has a script, and you go up on stage and you become another person, but what I’m doing is I’m becoming lots of other people, and in-between I’m becoming myself. It’s a weird experience,” she said.
“I hope that it’s a kind of self-discovery for me as well, but it mustn’t be therapy… it’s got to be entertaining, and I think it is.”
Audiences would seem to agree — the show opened in Melbourne to rave reviews and standing ovations.
Although Margolyes has been open about her sexuality for a long time, her matter-of-fact declaration (“In case anyone didn’t know I was a dyke”) at her Australia Day citizenship ceremony in 2013, presided over by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, quickly achieved infamy.
“By the time I became a citizen, which was only two years ago, I couldn’t give a stuff about what anybody thinks because it doesn’t matter,” she said.
“This is who I am, this is who I love, get on with it. Just relax. I think people get a bit too worked up about all this sex stuff, frankly. I think people should just calm down and be in love with who they want.”
Margolyes went on to say her relaxation about the whole business extended to the issue of marriage.
“I don’t get very agitated about gay marriage, for example. I think that people should be able to be married if they wish,” she explained.
“My partner and I have no wish to get married. We’ve done another kind of thing, which is called a civil partnership, and that’s quite satisfactory as far as we’re concerned. I don’t want to ape the straight world in the designation of my relationship, but I don’t care if anybody else does.”
The Importance of Being Miriam is currently touring Australia, with upcoming dates in Adelaide, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, and a long list of rural and regional centres.
For more information or to book tickets, visit beingmiriam.com.au.