Books & Literature

Book Review: Turner’s Turn, by Geraldine Turner

MEMOIR: Geraldine Turner is one of Australia’s most renowned stars of the stage, but growing up in Brisbane in a dysfunctional family, Geraldine could hardly have imagined the places her talent would take her.

A history of Australian theatre as told by living legend who has seen and done it all.

CW: mention of rape

If there is one good thing to have come out of the pandemic, it is that we are blessed with many memoirs written by some of the most fascinating individuals to grace our planet. Geraldine Turner is one of brightest and biggest stars of Australian stage and screen and has been for over 50 years now. But life has been anything but rosy for the lady who, when she was little, wanted to be so famous that she would be referred to as “our Geraldine” by all Australians.

Turner’s memoir, like the best actors, has an impeccable sense of timing and also knows when to get out while the going is good. This short memoir is packed to the gills with anecdote after anecdote from Turner’s incredible life and career. It starts with her difficult home life as a child that included a mother who rarely showed affection for her, a father who was a wife-beating alcoholic and a bunch of brothers who were physically violent with each other. Despite this, Turner was determined to pursue a career as an actor and soon she was headlining some fantastic casts and productions.

Turner writes with engaging prose about her early years on the stage which included performances of the Steven Sondheim classic A Little Night Music (a show she would revisit two more times throughout her career) which would begin her decades-long love affair with the man and his music—she was, in fact, the first person to record an album entirely of Sondheim tunes anywhere in the world. She discusses her torturous production of Into The Woods as well as productions of other Sondheim shows including Company and Sweeney Todd. She also has managed to never play the role of Mama Rose in Gypsy despite being cast six times (all those productions were cancelled for one reason or another). It is clearly a massive regret in her life that she never got to perform a role that she would have truly shone in.

Outside of Sondheim, she talks about the many plays she has appeared in as well as her most successful production, Chicago, which people still rave about today. The story of a trumpeter whom she liked but didn’t have the courage to ask out has a pretty amazing ending.

Her personal life is also very much on display and she speaks, as the title of her memoir suggests, with alarming honesty about it—both the triumphs and the tragedies. Her rape at 17 is a particularly painful memory that she has not, until this point, spoken about and is one of many examples of how, where other people would have crumpled, she picked herself up and marched on. Her failed first marriage and her subsequent 10-year relationship also get a fair run with Turner shouldering her fair share of the blame for their breakdown. It is only after she meets her current husband of nearly 30 years that this aspect of her life begins to get a whole lot better.

 Of course, there are many names dropped throughout the course of the book that make up a veritable who’s who of Australian theatre both on and off the stage. There are knockbacks and rejections aplenty that she humbly acknowledges along with stories both hilarious and heartbreaking.

If you are a fan of Australian theatre then this memoir is an absolute must read. There is so much to enjoy and by the end of it, you feel like you know Geraldine Turner so much better. Sorry … I mean “Our Geraldine”.

Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Twitter: @Wagnerfan74

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Published by: New Holland Publishers
Released: April 2022
RRP: $29.99

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