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On stage ... Karen Marshall is making her directorial debut with Sister Anzac at the Oamaru Repertory Society's Itchen St theatre. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

A woman who has been on stage since the age of 6 has taken on a new role.

Karen Marshall is directing her first full play, Sister Anzac, for the Oamaru Repertory Society. Appropriately, it opens on Anzac Day and runs until April 29.

Marshall, who has been involved with the Repertory Society for several years, is part of the committee that reads play scripts to choose what it wants to stage. It was keen to complete its tributes to World War 1 in the centenary of the final year of the conflict, having begun with Journey’s End in 2015.

When Marshall read the Sister Anzac script, written in 2014 by Geoff Allen, she said “this is the play we have to do”.

She told the committee that if no-one else wanted to direct it, she would.

Her offer was accepted unanimously.

Marshall said she liked that the play focused on the role of women in war. The central characters are four New Zealand nurses on the hospital ship Maheno, in the aftermath of the Gallipoli landings.

Actors Bruna Oakes, Robertina Collins, Bronwyn Waldron, and Sam Marshall, the director’s 16-year-old daughter, are the nurses.

The two men in the cast, Colonel Carter and a nurse’s boyfriend, are played by Hugh Perkins and Joseph Walshe respectively.

Ten weeks were scheduled for rehearsals. Marshall said they began with a blend of thinking about the characters and studying the scripts.

“Then we were able to block some scenes and piece them together.”

With the cast having learned their lines, the rest of the rehearsal time could be devoted to “fine-tuning”, Marshall said.

“They’re really picking up the characters now. The roles are emotional.

“It’s been really enjoyable seeing the characters come out, come off the paper. It’s a chance for them to give voice to their story.”

All were based on the real experiences of women on hospital ships. The nurses were “pragmatic – it was a tough time and they did what they had to do.”

The play was “definitely reflective” and also carried universal themes, Marshall said.

Her set is pared back, as much symbolic as illustrative.

Well-known Oamaru actor David Blair has taken charge of the sound booth, creating what Marshall said was “a character in itself”.

The production was shaping up well and she was relishing being a director, she said.

Her stagecraft experiences began with speech and drama lessons as a child growing up in North Otago. She attended Weston School and Waitaki Girls’ High School, then left town at the age of 18.

At the University of Canterbury she stepped up to comedy theatre and stand-up, going on to perform in a lot of theatresports alongside people who have become professional entertainers.

Marshall returned to North Otago five and a-half years ago and has been involved with the Oamaru Repertory Society since.

She urged the public to see Sister Anzac. It was “a very affordable way to come and be entertained”, produced entirely by volunteers who gave countless hours to the cause.

The Itchen St theatre box office is open from April 18 from noon to 5pm and an hour before performances. Tickets can be booked by phoning 434-8868 during those times or by emailing tickets@oamarurepertory.co.nz any time.