|Born||Monica Cresswell Wood
15 September 1933
|Died||8 January 2010
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
|Spouse(s)||W. Brian Essex (1954–1957)
Rowland Ball (1968–2010)
Early life and education
She was born Monica Cresswell Wood in Tonga to Australian missionaries Rev. Dr A. Harold Wood and medical Dr Olive Wood (née O'Reilly). She was a sister of Dr Elizabeth Wood-Ellem and Rev. Dr H. D'Arcy Wood and three others.
The family moved to Sydney in 1937 – Monica was three and a half and spoke no English – and shortly afterwards to Melbourne, Australia. Monica attended Methodist Ladies' College – where she received her only formal drama training with speech teacher Dorothy Dwyer – and went on to study French at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1959 with a BA.
Monica was a member of the Melbourne University Dramatic Club where she adopted the stage name Maughan. She made her stage debut opposite Barry Humphries in Ben Hecht's fast-paced satire The Front Page in April 1954. While studying part-time, she worked as a secretary at St Ives Hospital in Melbourne. In 1960 she taught speech at Methodist Ladies' College.
Monica Maughan launched her professional career with the Union Theatre Repertory Company (UTRC) in 1957 playing Capulat in Jean Anouilh's romantic comedy Ring Round the Moon at the Union Theatre, Parkville. Her first leading role came that same year in Beauty and the Beast. The UTRC, Australia's first professional theatre company, became the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) in 1968. Monica Maughan appeared in more plays for that flagship company than any other actor. She also directed plays for the MTC. Her last MTC performance was in the premiere production of David Williamson's Scarlett O'Hara at the Crimson Parrot in 2008.
Cast in J.C. Williamson productions in the early 1960s, Maughan spent 1963–66 working in the UK, where she appeared in various West End productions – including stepping in for Moira Lister when the latter was sick – on BBC TV and with the Wales Theatre Company and Traverse Theatre Company, Edinburgh.
Maughan appeared in at least seven plays in her first year back in Australia, most of them lead roles, and throughout the late sixties was hailed for her stage performances, such at the title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1968), directed by MTC founder, John Sumner (1924-2013). In 1971, Maughan won the Melbourne Theatre Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of pregnant spinster Anna Bowers in Donald Howarth's Three Months Gone. Coincidentally, Maughan was three months pregnant at the end of the play's run.
She worked for every major theatre company in Australia, including Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus for the Queensland Theatre Company in 1978, and the role of Aggie in A Hard God produced by the State Theatre Company of South Australia and Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Sydney Theatre Company, both in 1981. In Melbourne, in addition to UTRC/MTC and J.C. Williamson's, Maughan worked for Playbox/Malthouse Theatre, the Arts Theatre, Richmond, the Young Elizabethan Players, St Martin's Theatre Company, fortyfivedownstairs and La Mama.
Perhaps Maughan's best-known stage role was as Miss Prism in the MTC's The Importance of Being Earnest. The production, co-starring Frank Thring, Ruth Cracknell and Geoffrey Rush, was so popular that it toured Australia between 1988 and 1992, and was televised by the ABC. (A tribute-cum-revival of the production was staged by MTC in 2011, this time with Geoffrey Rush playing Lady Bracknell.)
In 1999 she created the role of Suzanne Beckett in Justin Fleming's Burnt Piano at Belvoir Company B, and demonstrated a command of classical piano played live in each performance. In 2003 she starred in Inheritance by Hannie Rayson.
Early television roles in Crawford's dramas led to ongoing television parts that made Maughan a recognisable face around Australia, including prim secretary Jean Ford in the first year of The Box (1974–75) and downtrodden prisoner Pat O'Connell for five months in women's-prison drama Prisoner in 1979–80. Working extensively with ABC TV and radio over nearly 50 years, Maughan received an AFI Award and a Silver Logie Award for her role as Monica McHugh in the ABC's black comedy mini-series, The Damnation of Harvey McHugh (1994).
Her 20 or so feature films include A City's Child (1971), Road to Nhill (1997), Crackerjack (2002) and Strange Bedfellows (2004), plus a number of films by Dutch-Australian director Paul Cox. Her last film role was in Blessed, directed by Ana Kokkinos in 2009, and described by 3RRR film critic Brian MacFarlane as Maughan's best ever.
She did not live to play the title role in Belvoir Company B's Gwen in Purgatory in 2010, written for her by Tommy Murphy and directed by Neil Armfield.
- Erik Kuttner Award for Acting (1968) for the title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (MTC)
- Erik Kuttner Award for Best Actress (1971) as Anna Bowers in Three Months Gone (MTC)
- AFI Award (Hoyts Prize) for Best Performance (1971) for the lead role in A City’s Child (dir. Brian Kavanagh)
- Green Room Award for Best Supporting Actress (1983) as Mollie in Gulls (MTC)
- Television Society of Australia Commendation for performance by an Actress in a supporting role in a mini-series (1985) for her role in Flying Doctors (Crawford's)
- Green Room Award for Best Supporting Actress (1987) as Mme Arcati in Blithe Spirit (MTC)
- Green Room Award for Best Supporting Actress (1990) as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest (MTC)
- Silver Logie Award Most Outstanding Actress (1995) as Monica McHugh in The Damnation of Harvey McHugh (ABC)
- AFI Award for Best Actress in a TV Drama (1995) as Monica McHugh in The Damnation of Harvey McHugh (ABC)
- Green Room Award for Best Actress (1998) for her role in Tear from a Glass Eye (Playbox)
- Critics' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress (2008) as the teacher Mrs Walkham in The Toy Symphony (Belvoir St Company B)
Maughan was always coy about her age and many sources gave her year of birth as 1938. When celebrating 50 years of professional acting in 2007, Maughan said she was "20 or 21" on her first acting tour in 1954 and admitted she "always lied about my age".
Maughan married Brian Essex, then a medical student, in December 1954 with her father officiating.
Maughan died of complications from cancer at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne on 8 January 2010.
- Carman, Gerry (9 January 2010). "'Wonderful' thespian a real trouper". Sydney Morning Herald.
- "Actress Monica Maughan dies". ABC News. 8 January 2010.
- "Students in tense play". The Age. 23 April 1954.
- "Fry Play". The Age. 16 April 1955.
- "Wide Interests Among Graduates". The Age. 25 February 1960.
- "Winning Monica lives the part". The Age. 6 March 1971.
- "A lady never reveals her age". Sydney Morning Herald. 16 November 2007.
- "When The Bells Peal Out". The Age. 31 December 1954.
- Monica Maughan at the Internet Movie Database
- Monica Maughan – Stage acting credits
- "The Importance of Being Earnest" – (information and photos):