Punters Siren Jacqui Robson
Jacqui Robson played this comic monologue to packed Sydney houses.

All bets are off in Punter’s Sirens when lust, trust and a mountain of cash send punter Helen on the ride of her life.

An edge-of-your-saddle mishmash of horse-racing, crippling self-doubt, dodgy sound effects, one overworked actor and seven characters.  The extraordinary Jacqui Robson played this comic monologue to packed Sydney houses. Now she’s taking the outside track to Adelaide.

Gina Schien’s plays have been produced in Australia, the US, Italy and Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe festivals in the UK. She has won a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in the US and an Australian Writers Guild award.

Her writing has been described by critics as ‘gobsmackingly brilliant’, ‘wonderful, poetic and beautiful and ‘sidesplittingly funny’.

The Punter’s Siren’ was a hit with queer audiences in both its Sydney seasons. Now it’s travelling to Adelaide Fringe in 2020. Jacqui Robson is still playing the role of Helen the punter, but this time she’s on stage alone and playing six other characters as well. And this time playwright Gina Schien is directing.

Jacqui, did you do any prep to play a lesbian?

When we did the two-hander version of the play I asked Gina how I was supposed to kiss the Siren character. She laughed at me and said there was ‘no special lesbian kiss’.

Gina: Which was a lie, because of course there is.

Jacqui: I spent a lot of time imagining the beautiful female form and thinking how that’s a very nice place to play in, mentally.

Gina, did you have apprehensions about a straight woman playing a lesbian character?

It’s always about the skill of the actress. I didn’t see the auditions for the Sydney run so I was worried that she’d be terrible. It’s a really demanding role. But as soon as I saw Jacqui playing the part I got excited because she was great. I have to say, she makes a very good lesbian.

Gina, how did you find directing your own work for the first time?

I felt like a fraud at first. I wouldn’t have taken it on except I know Jacqui, I feel comfortable with her and trust her not to be too… scornful.  When I suggest something and she says, ‘that’s great’ and then the thing works, that’s lovely. I sometimes find the rehearsal room a terrifying place, because actors can scapegoat the script or the writer when they’re having trouble with something. But directing has put that in perspective. It’s working a different muscle altogether.

Gina, it’s a terrible question for a writer but we’ll ask it anyway: where did you get the idea from?

I was living out near Randwick racecourse for a while and the landscape must have got into my psyche. I’ve like mashing up the unconventional with the conventional. It’s fun to have a lesbian in a very straight, Aussie landscape like the racecourse. It’s like a short story I wrote ages ago, called “Minnie Gets Married” where a woman goes to her ex-girlfriend’s very straight wedding.

In terms of ‘The Punter’s Siren’ plot, it was really just a ‘what if’. What if a woman went to the races and something brilliant but bizarre happened? I originally wanted to write it as a Proustian kind of novel set over one day…. There would have been 30 pages just describing Siren’s necklace. Not a good idea. But I did get one Proustian reference in with the ‘madeleine to my past’ line…

Are you racing fans?

Gina: Well…I like the sound of galloping hooves. I’m doing live sound effects during the show and I love doing the galloping with drumsticks. And with coconut shells of course.

Jacqui: I love seeing people have a good time. But I’m not that keen on champagne!

Jacqui, how do you feel when you’re doing the show?

I feel somewhere between shit-scared, fucking terrified and a crazy adrenaline rush. It’s a joyful-slash-terrifying experience, which is the right space to be in when you’re performing.

How do you manage to play so many different characters?

Oh, God. I play seven different characters and one “speechless Urge” in the play. It scares the shit out of me but it’s awesome when I can make it happen. It’s like a (totally dysfunctional and inappropriate) relationship with drugs: the high is worth the pain.

Gina, why the Adelaide Fringe?

It’s my friend Olga Nowicka’s fault. She’s working there this year. She messaged me and said, “why don’t you bring a show to the Fringe?”. I said “Maybe one year, if I find a producer…” Then I thought why don’t I do it myself? I texted Jacqui and after about two minutes her reply was, “Yeeeeeahh let’s go to Radelaide!”

So I blame those two.

And once the fabulous Lesbians Inc. gave us a grant, there was no turning back!

What are you looking forward to most?

Gina: the buzz of a fringe festival is lovely, it’s so high energy. And of course, I’m looking forward to seeing long queues snaking around the Bakehouse Theatre!

Jacqui: having a love affair with Adelaide. Being around a bunch of amazingly creative, adventurous art lovers. It’s a bit like an orgy for my soul.


The Punter’s Siren’ runs from 2 – 14 March at the Adelaide Fringe in 2020.

Book here