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The not-so-private life of TV's Penny Cook

Even away from the set, the star of "A Country

Practice" says: "I make no bones about it - my only interest is acting"

When the lights go down in

Wandin Valley, home of TV's "A Country Practice", veterinarian Vicky Dean chucks off her gumboots and heads for the Big Smog. There, at The Stables Theatre, in Kings Cross, Sydney, she becomes mild-mannered Penny Cook - actress/ticket taker/coffee-maker and

board member.

Not since the "Phantom of the Opera" prowled backstage has anyone given so much of themselves to the theatre as this voung woman. Twentv-five-vear-old

As jack-of all-trades at The Stables, Penny takes bookings tor the plays and helps backstage with the sets. Pictures taken by Neville Waller.

Penny, who pops up twice-weekly playing vet Vicky, took a break from deworming a "Country Practice" script to tell The Weekly: "I make no bones about it - my only interest is acting."

After a full day's shooting at Wandin Valley (actually Pitt Town on Sydney's north-western outskirts) or at Channel Seven's bucolic studios, Penny drives to her theatre for another long session either on stage or back stage.

Cramped in a decrepit side street, The Stables is a lean theatre run by hungry actors who are obsessively enthusiastic about all things Thespian.

Penny, if not performing, is either dis- pensing tickets at the box office, serving coffee at interval or working with her three fellow board members on coming productions.

"My social life is The Stables," she said, adding that while she may not have a boyfriend she does have - like a good

TV vet - two cats.

On the TV programme, Penny as Vicky the Vet, is linked romantically with Dr Simon Bowen (played at a hectic pace by blond bombshell Grant Dodwell). In real life Grant is teamed with actress Sian Pugh.

Was Penny hired for "A Country Prac- tice" because she had an affinity with

animals?

"Good Lord, no!" she said. "They chose me because I look like Grant Dodwell's sister."

Penny then went on to qualify that re- mark. "At the audition. Grant and I

tested together," she said. "Not only do

we look similar but there was also a cer-

tain chemistry there. We have, for in- stance, the same sense of humour."

"A Country Practice" is Penny's sec- ond lengthy spell in a TV series. She spent six months on "The Restless Years" playing Suzie Denning.

"A long run doesn't necessarily mean financial stability," she said. "For all I

know this show could finish tomorrow and I'd be finished, too.

"Security was one of the reasons my father wanted me to study radiography when I left school - but look at this (she held up a newspaper story headlined: "Government moves to block rise for radiographers") there's no stability in that job, either."

Penny had, in fact, tried to enter the

National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) after school but they told her: "Go away, grow up, and try again."

She did a year of radiography before reapplying to NIDA. As an 18-year-old she was accepted.

"The beauty about NIDA is that they don't muck around and give you false hopes," she said.

When she graduated in 1978 she be- gan picking up roles in TV series such as "Skyways", "Bellamy", "Menotti" and

"Patrol Boat".

Between jobs, she and a group of fel- low NIDA graduates formed the Griffin Theatre Company.

Based at The Stables theatre, the

Griffin group is funded by the Australia Council and the NSW Government's cul- tural division. "That's meant we've had the money to put on six Australian plays so far this year," she said.

"Most of the grant money goes into rent and other major costs. We can now guarantee people doing our shows

$100 . .."

A night?

"No, no. One hundred dollars all up. That's pay for four weeks' rehearsal and

a four-week run.

"It's a lot more than we could offer a year ago. It's so hard now to get a job elsewhere. At least if people are working with us they get seen by others in the industry.

"We don't let anyone do a show if they are not a full time actor, director or whatever. And not everybody takes the $100; some use it to have posters printed

for the show.

"We semi-train people and give them

confidence."

Yet when told she was to be inter-

viewed she said: "Fm sorry but I'm really not very interesting." Then before The Weekly photo session she revealed: "A friend told me not to smile because I look ugly." And finally: "Channel 7 said they couldn't imagine why you wanted to pho-

tograph me."

As many actresses have a head as big as all outdoors it was rather pleasant to

meet one with a size IV*.

_ GREG FLYNN

On location for "A

Country Practice",

chatting up one of her equine co-stars.

Plastering up posters is yet another part of the job.

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