IN THEATRE they never throw you a curve ball.
So for Ailsa Piper, who never acted in television until she joined the cast
of Neighbours 18 months ago, life on a television soap opera proved you had to
expect the unexpected every time you stepped up to bat.
"You have to stay really in the moment with television and roll with the
punches," she said of her role as Ruth Wilkinson.
"Some of the things are really out of left field. I'll never forget the time
they told me I was going to have a 21-year-old son and I'd been pregnant at 16.
I'd been hiding it all this time.
"But uncovering new things leads to really meaty scenes. With the arrival of
Ben (her new son) it was the first time we ever saw Ruth's character as anything
but a bright and sunny person.
"His arrival scored an AFI Award last year. It was a beautifully written
episode where we were allowed to feed the character, not just the plot."
Displaying none of the artistic snobbery often associated with theatre
acting, Piper - as bright and enthusiastic as she appears on screen - loves the
closeness of the show's cast, especially her off-screen relationship with
on-screen children Andrew Bibby (Lance) and Brooke Satchwell (Anne). Her role as
a single mother has allowed her to portray the non-traditional family unit in a
positive light, a situation she says reflects her own happy childhood shared by
Yet it is the strength of that image that has left Piper with mixed feelings
about her character's future on Neighbours.
Ruth Wilkinson is handling a testing period in her life.
Her eldest son Ben is in a coma after last year's cliff-hanger finale and a
mysterious stranger who turns out to be Ben's biological father could threaten
Yet it is her engagement to Philip Martin and the possibility of a wedding
this year that she is ambivalent about.
"Philip and I are engaged and that has to be resolved," she said.
"I have a hunch there may be a wedding this year and while that's an exciting
change for the character, I love being a single parent.
"It's great to be able to portray that, for a single-parent family to be seen
as a happy group."
Whatever decision the writers take, Ailsa hopes her character is in for the
long haul, at least as long as her on-screen children remain in Ramsay Street.
"I'd hate to leave before the two kids leave," she said.
"I'd hate not to be around while they are. I want to finish the experience.
For me this is very much a journey as a family and I hope they let us come and
Neighbours celebrates its 3000th episode today at 5pm. The show screens
weeknights on Ten Capital.