Australian film star Tilda Cobham-Hervey is set to end a seven-year break from the stage, confident her role in an adaption of an international bestselling novel will wow audiences.
- Tilda Cobham-Hervey was headhunted for the lead role in The Dictionary Of Lost Words
- The novel, written by Adelaide author Pip Williams, has sold more than 500,000 copies
- The Dictionary Of Lost Words premiers in Adelaide before moving to Sydney
She was headhunted for the lead role in The Dictionary Of Lost Words, which will premiere in Adelaide, before moving to the Sydney Opera House in late October.
Performing live on stage every night is a challenge that has beaten the best of many actors, but the 29-year-old said she was ready for the challenge.
“I haven’t done stage for seven years so I’m quite intrigued myself as to how that’s going to go,” she said.
With her parents working in the industry, Cobham-Hervey grew up by the stage, before being discovered in the 2013 coming-of-age film 52 Tuesdays.
She performed in the acclaimed movie Hotel Mumbai alongside now real-life partner Dev Patel, and the biopic of feminist icon Helen Reddy in I Am Woman.
Splitting her time between Australia and overseas, she is revelling in returning to the stage in her home town.
“It is so different, I mean at the end of the day you’re still just trying to find the truth of the moment and be in it with the other people around you,” she said.
“The main big difference is you get to rehearse and it’s so amazing.”
The Dictionary Of Lost Words was the debut novel for Adelaide Hills-based author Pip Williams.
It has now sold more than 500,000 copies, was a New York Times bestseller and was the first from Australia to be selected for actor and producer Reece Witherspoon’s popular book club.
The story centres around the creation of the first Oxford Dictionary and the role of a young woman to preserve “women’s words” that were neglected by the male lexicographers creating it.
Williams was not initially sure the book would work.
“My greatest fear was writing a novel about that idea and writing it badly which is partly why I didn’t tell many people really what I was doing, not even my publisher knew,” she admitted.
Adelaide shows nearly sold out
Now the whole world knows, and the success came despite being launched two days after Australia went into COVID lockdown in 2020.
It was not just book lovers who fell in love, but key figures at South Australia’s leading theatre company.
“When [artistic director] Mitchell Butel from the State Theatre rang I was just beside myself,” she said.
“He said can we have a chat over a coffee about adapting the book to stage, [and I thought] ‘oh sure yeah’.”
But finding the right person to play the lead role of Esme would be critical and that is where Tilda Cobham-Hervey came in.
“She has so many of the qualities of Esme that I had in my head when I was writing the book,” Williams said.
“When I saw Tilda I was struck by just, there’s just something about the way she holds her body, the way she moves her head that was familiar to me.”
Already the show is nearing a sellout in Adelaide and also proving popular for its Sydney Opera House season.
Cobham-Hervey knows there will be plenty of lovers of the book in the audience with high expectations.
“It’s really hard and I think as an avid lover of books I always get really terrified when you hear someone is going to turn your favourite book into a stage play or film, so yes definitely feel the pressure of it,” she said.
But with intense rehearsals nearing an end, both Williams and Cobham-Hervey believe Verity Laughton’s adaption will succeed.
“I feel so confident about the adaptation that I don’t feel nervous about it and so confident about all of the actors who have been case and Jessica Arthur the director,” Williams said.
‘Me Too movement is still doing amazing things’
Cobham-Hervey is revelling in yet again playing a strong female role, after the success of the Helen Reddy movie.
She is confident the entertainment sector has come a long way, as has society, in its treatment of women.
“A lot has changed recently, I think things like the Me Too movement is still doing amazing things and have pushed a whole lot more conversation, even when you see it in just women having all different kinds of jobs,” she said.
“There’s a lot more female directors, you’re seeing a lot more female led stories in screen and them getting funded.”
The work will continue at a fast pace for Cobham-Hervey after the stage show wraps up.
“It’s been really nice that there’s been a lot of amazing stuff that’s been made in Australia, it is always my goal to work here as much as possible,” she said.
“I love Australia and I love all the creatives here, so I think after this I’ve got a TV show and a film that will also be shot in Australia.”
As for Pip Williams, months of touring to promote The Dictionary Of Lost Words and her second novel The Bookbinder of Jericho will ease up early next year.
“I have started two projects and so now they’re vying for my attention,” she said.
“One of them is I suppose in some ways in the same universe as Bookbinder and Dictionary, but the other one is completely separate and much more contemporary and closer to home.”
The Dictionary Of Lost Words is at the Dunstan Playhouse from September 22 to October 14, before moving to the Sydney Opera House from October 26 to December 16.
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