On Good Friday when I visited the “prison” the cast were rather uneasy because they had discovered they were not receiving double-time wages. But they struggled through the morning and later were not as tense. Before filming a scene they try three or four run throughs and if they are lucky, the complete sequence will be over in thirty minutes. And so, often the cast are seen sitting in chairs with long faces. As Pieta Toppano (Karen) assured me, it’s not because they are bored but because some of them have been working since 6am and are naturally quite tired. “It’s more enjoyable when you have dialogue to say than when you’re just sitting around in the tunnel,” she said.
The tunnel, as they call it, is an underground dressing room where they change costumes, receive make-up and usually spend their time when not acting. Colette Mann (Doreen) chooses to learn her lines down there while Val Lehman (Bea) learns hers slouched over a television set upstairs. She also kills time by delighting in graffiti writing and reading “John and Betty” from one of the show’s props!
Fiona Spence, who plays Vera the prison officer, paces the studio with hands behind back, keys jingling, and jokingly she orders everyone around as if she really is a warden.
Meanwhile Kerry Armstrong (Lynne) sings “You Light Up My Life” to a pot plant and Sheila Florence (Lizzie) snatches forty winks on the couch. The Director echoes through the studio resembling the ‘great master’s voice’ and it’s back to work.
They spend Mondays and Wednesdays rehearsing, and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays filming. If by then they’re still not finished then everyone’s back for Saturday. Outdoor scenes (known as ‘on location’) are filmed simultaneously with the indoor scenes.
Because they are producing two one hour episodes a week they are working to a heavy schedule. At the moment they are two months ahead of the current episode programming.
When they began work on the show last year some of the ladies decided to visit some of Melbourne’s Prisons as part of their research. Carol Burns, the inimitable Frankie, had to spend time with characters who in real life are a Frankie themselves. But Carol is no longer in the series and will soon vanish from our screens.
And the cell doors are silent as the guard locks the security doors and the theme song begins.