Tina Bursill is back behind bars, almost 40 years after appearing on Prisoner in the 80s.
The celebrated actress, who played Sonia Stevens in the cult prison drama, is joining the final season of Foxtel hit Wentworth – which launches tonight, August 24 – as murderer Eve Wilder.
Wentworth is a reimagining of Prisoner, which ran from 1976 to 1986.
“Having already been in the original as another character, I could have dropped the phone I was so thrilled to be invited into that world,’’ Bursill says.
“It’s such a wonderful cast of women and there’s a huge adrenaline to participate in this wondrous iconic show and it’s a task to raise the bar of your own work.
“One thing I do recall is back in the 80s when Prisoner was first on our screens, I was working on Skyways. I was the antithesis of the show. I was in the world of shoulder pads and glamour running an airport, in contrast to the teal. My parallel was glamour but also women in a top position.”
Bursill, 70, has appeared in a raft of TV shows from Heartbreak High, to Neighbours and most recently Doctor Doctor, as well as films such as Jilted and Wish You Were Here. Also an accomplished theatre performer, she says the strength of her career has been evolving with her roles.
“As a young actress I had the good fortune of being across many good shows and theatre because that was my first love,’’ she says.
“It allows you to become more accomplished and seek out what stories you want to be part of really.
“It’s a well earned road and I have enormous respect for the industry and the craft and new technologies and what mechanisms we need to be involved. It’s a thrill and I find that very exciting.”
Bursill’s Eve Wilder character joins the show’s ninth season, Wentworth: The Final Sentence from episode four.
Sigrid Thornton is part of an elite group.
She’s one of just 13 actors who have starred in both the original Prisoner and Wentworth.
In the 70s, Thornton played (the mostly good) Ros Coulson but for Wentworth, which first screened in 2013, she was the psychopathic socialite, Sonia Stevens. For Thornton – who has made a career out of playing heroic characters like Laura in SeaChange and The Man from Snowy River’s Jessica – unleashing her dark side was “thrilling.”
While there have been huge advancements in the technology used in filming a TV series since Prisoner went to air, Thornton is surprised at how little has changed culturally. She says it’s disappointing that Wentworth, which has women of all shapes, sizes, sexualities and ethnicities as the central characters, is still the exception to the rule on TV.
Thornton’s co-star in Wentworth and SeaChange, Kate Atkinson, remembers being slightly daunted at the prospect of stepping into the sensible shoes of Vera Bennett, a character made so famous by Fiona Spence.
“We had the premiere with the original cast of Prisoner. I remember being really nervous,” she recalls.
“Val Lehman was there and Fiona Spence. And many of the other gorgeous cast. We had to sit in a big screen cinema with them and none of us had seen it until then. I just remember that the directors had given it a totally different look. And at the end of the screening the original cast members turned to us and they were just so thrilled that we had done our own thing.
“Yes, there were some little tips of the hat to Prisoner, but it was our own thing and they were delighted.”
Unlike Thornton’s character who met a grisly demise at the end of Season 6, Atkinson has been on the show since day one. Whether she will make it to the end (in a show that is notorious for killing off characters) remains to be seen.
While TV is littered with TV reboots that have crashed and burned, Wentworth is proof that clever writing and a talented cast can breathe new life into an old show.
But that doesn’t mean Jane Hall is in a hurry to see any of her past work return to the
Hall has appeared in some iconic shows over her career including Altogether Now, The Secret Life of Us and the Henderson Kids alongside a then-teenage Kylie Minogue.
“Henderson Kids would have to be Henderson Geriatrics now because the youngest cast members are now over 50! Nobody wants to see that,” she laughs.
Hall is far more excited by the idea Puberty Blues could be set for a return.
The series, based on Kathy Lette’s book of the same name, aired on Channel 10 for two seasons and starred Claudia Karvan and Susie Porter.
It has found a new audience on Netflix – including Hall’s teenage daughter who is a huge fan – prompting talk it might be returning more than seven years after we last saw teen surfers Sue and Debbie.
Those rumours gained momentum when actor Ed Oxenbould, who played the youngest son of Karvan’s character, teased season three was on its way in a Tik Tok video.
If Puberty Blues is making a comeback, no-one’s told Porter. Yet anyway.
“Well, it would be great. But I haven’t heard anything. But, who knows, maybe I will have a call from my agent by close of business!” Porter says.
Wentworth is renowned for its brutal, heart-wrenching drama – and this last season is no different.
Kate Box tells Confidential some scenes were a little harder to shake off this time.
While she loved stepping back into the teal tracksuit to play former top dog of Wentworth Lou Kelly, it really took some time to unwind after shooting wrapped.
“Sometimes your body doesn’t know what is fact or fiction,” she shares.
“But that’s where family comes in handy – coming home to three beautiful kids and a partner and a life which is very different to Wentworth correctional facility.”
The fabulous cast and crew also helped with the transition back to real life.
“Everybody working on it has to either live or watch really traumatic things and so it’s a good family support network.
“Everybody recognises that work like that can take its toll and we all need to help each other shake it off afterwards. There’s a lot of love on set after those scenes.
“They are all so incredibly respectful and create a space where you can honour the massive emotions you go through and also give you a cuddle afterwards.”
Although, there was definitely less cuddling this time around, given it was filmed during Melbourne’s 112-day lockdown last year.
“Yeah, we couldn’t so much – there was just more looks of sympathy I suppose,” Box explains. “Virtual hugs and someone bringing you an extra Tim Tam.”
Wentworth: The Final Sentence premieres Tuesday at 8.30pm on Foxtel’s Fox Showcase