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Illawarra Mercury

Rolling with the punches

Date: 23/01/1998
Words: 400
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: Applause
Page: 37
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 divorced parents.

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 her future.

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 go together."

Neighbours celebrates its 3000th episode today at 5pm. The show screens weeknights on Ten Capital.

 
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