Joanne Sutton – Insomnia Cat, Cabaret Creative and Almost-Auntie

With the critically-acclaimed one-woman show Insomnia Cat Came to Stay set to start its performance run in the Brisbane Festival this September, Aussie Theatre’s Paige Mulholland spoke to performer Joanne Sutton about the show, her background as a performer, and her upcoming projects, both professional and personal.

Joanne Sutton Photo:  Sarah Walker
Joanne Sutton
Photo: Sarah Walker

Tell us about Insomnia Cat Came to Stay

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay is a media fusion. As far as the production’s concerned, it’s just a play with songs, really. It’s about a woman’s struggle to sleep and this hour-long confession that she makes to an audience about how difficult that particular affliction is.

The character is lovely because she’s not a victim in any way, if anything she actually would like to be rid of the insomnia, because she can identify that it makes life quite difficult for her. But, at the same time, you can see that she’s got quite a strong affection for the affliction as well.

Are you an insomniac yourself?

No, I’m not an insomniac actually! I generally have no trouble sleeping at all, and, as any of my friends would tell you, I’ll be able to fall asleep anywhere. It’s actually quite ironic that I’ve been the one asked to play the part, because I’m as opposite from an insomniac as you could get – not to the point of narcolepsy though!”

When we were rehearsing the first time though, to take [Insomnia Cat] to Perth… I think it was probably just getting used to the play, or the nerves, or the performance pressure that you get because it was a one-woman show… but it did induce a little bit of insomnia. Whether it was psychosomatic or not who knows, but it’s been a funny talking point amongst the cast and the crew.

What’s your background as a performer?

I’m sort or a jack-of-all-trades, really. I started as a dancer, a competitive dancer, for years and then went and studied singing at the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide. I studied opera for three years and I’d always been involved in music theatre stuff prior to that. Then I had a chat with my singing teacher and she said that, as much as technically the opera was fine, she could see that my heart wasn’t in it 100% from the performing aspect; she said, ‘I think maybe you’re an actor’. So I just went and auditioned for drama schools and got into VCA, and the rest is history.

What’s challenging about performing in Insomnia Cat …?

The spontaneity is always a challenge when you’re the one in the show on your own. I love working with other actors and other performers because they spark your imagination. Acting isn’t really acting, it’s reacting to things so that you’re constantly spontaneous and available to whatever can happen in the moment between you and another character. It’s difficult to maintain that freshness and that spontaneity when you’re the only one on stage.

It’s been an enjoyable challenge to engage the audience, to use the audience as my fellow actor, and there are moments when I actually engage with the animation that’s on top of me – the beautiful hand drawn animations by an artist called Tom Russell – to use the animation as a fellow character and the music as well.

The production has been performed for a few years now – how has it changed over time?

It was originally performed by the playwright, Fleur Kilpatrick, about three or four years ago… and then she put that to bed, if you’ll pardon the pun, for a couple of years … then at the beginning of 2012, when I was already doing a play for her, she asked me if I would take on the role of the Insomniac in .Insomnia Cat …

It’s changed a lot, I mean from what people tell me. For me, it was just approaching a play for the first time around … interpreting a character, getting a chance to play that character, and letting the performance mould as we rehearsed it. … A lot of people who have seen it, Fleur’s performance and my performance, say it’s quite interesting to watch how much the character’s changed and how the different performer can give quite a different perspective to the insomniac’s attitude towards her insomnia.

What’s unique about Insomnia Cat Came to Stay?

I think it’s the collaboration between all elements, from the direction by Danny Delahunty to the script by Fleur, the lighting design by Sarah Walker… it’s one of those shows where it’s billed as a one-woman show because that’s the easiest way to pitch it, but it’s actually a product of ten to twelve incredibly creative people who enjoy each others company, but also really enjoy working together creatively and really bring out the best in each other creatively.

Even though it’s me standing up on stage for an hour on my own, I know that I’m completely supported by an incredible group of people who just know and understand theatre and performance, and I think that sense of community that this play exudes is what makes it so unique.

Will Insomnia Cat … continue to tour after Brisbane?

I think it is one of those shows that we can just keep reassessing; I mean it’s been a fantastically amazing run. It’s been a bit fairytale-esque because we started with Fringe shows and then did a main stage at the Malthouse in Melbourne and then got brought to Brisbane, so within a year the show’s gone from very humble beginnings to something that is quite advanced for an independent theatre show; to the point that it’s now a professional show. I think it’s always got opportunities to expand and develop depending on how people want to stay involved, but it’s definitely a story that seems to resonate with people, no matter what their circumstance or background.

Do you have any plans after it closes?

Well I’m writing my own show, my own cabaret, so that’s something that I’m going to turn my attention to, and then hopefully I’ll have a couple of projects coming up at the beginning of next year.

But my sister is having a baby and it’ll be the first of the next generation of our family, so family is taking a bit of a priority now and that’s going to be my focus at least until the end of the year. I’m very excited about being an Auntie. It’s nice, after having to make performing and acting such a priority for so long as all actors do, it is nice to be reminded how important family is as well.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing in Brisbane?

No. I’ve never been to Brisbane, I’ve never been to Queensland. That’s the one state in Australia that I’ve not been to. So I’m looking forward to just going with no expectations and seeing what Brisbane and Queensland, and the Festival particularly which I’m really excited about, has to offer. You cannot beat an arts festival environment, I think. It’s one of my favourite places to be.

I think it’s amazing to have been lucky enough to be a part of independent theatre when it has such a dream run. I mean, we always put so much work in as far as independent artists with the hope that things will turn professional, but at the same time, I’ve just been really lucky with this show to have been constantly surrounded by such supportive and creative people who have allowed me my chance to be supported and flourish as well.

People should get as involved in the independent theatre scene as they can and I know, no matter what, they won’t regret it.

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay will be performed as a part of the Brisbane Festival at La Boite Studio from 24-28 September.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Brisbane Festival website.

Paige Mulholland

Paige Mulholland is an Adelaide based writer, reviewer and perpetual volunteer for all things artsy in Adelaide. She has a double degree in International Relations and Journalism, and and writes for Adelaide Theatre Guide and ArtsHub as well as In her spare time, she takes classes in dance, voice and theatre, and sometimes has deep philosophical discussions with her cats.

Paige Mulholland

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