Star returns to Summer Bay
Gathered at a meeting in mid-2009, the writers of the long-running drama Home and Away decided to inject more comedy into the show. One suggestion was to create a character like the show's original daffy girl-next-door Marilyn Chambers, which begged the obvious question - why don't we just bring back Marilyn? So they did.
"I love playing the character and as an actress I have always preferred comedy because of that energised performance that goes with it," actress Emily Symons says. She played Marilyn from 1989 to 1999.
"I was very happy on the show and it's been a part of my life for so long; to come back to it is like coming back to a family."
The character of Marilyn left Summer Bay to deal with the loss of her infant son Byron, though she reappeared briefly after her estranged husband Donald Fisher (Norman Coburn) followed her to Britain. For reasons "soon to be revealed", Marilyn has decided the time is right to return.
"She's the same Marilyn but she's very spiritual. She's done a lot of courses and soul-searching and she feels there is a reason she has come back," Symons says.
Her homecoming is part of a shift of focus by the show's producers away from the event-based storylines of recent years (bomb blasts, floods and ferry disasters and stalkers) towards the relationship and family-based plots at the show's original dramatic core.
It also allows Marilyn to reconnect with three familiar faces - the show's legacy characters, Irene (Lynne McGranger), Alf (Ray Meagher) and Colleen (Lyn Collingwood), the mother of her former boyfriend, Lance (Peter Vroom).
Unlike many long-running dramas, Home and Away has successfully leveraged its history, bringing back characters such as Pippa (Debra Lawrence) and creating strong legacy storylines, such as Kate Ritchie's final Sally/Milco storyline, which introduced Josh Quong Tart as Sally's brother Miles.
In her first meetings with the show's scriptwriters, Symons was at pains to ensure they paid proper respect to what had transpired in her character's past - particularly her final storyline in 1999 in which she and Donald lost their son.
"With Marilyn there is so much history, so giving their son Byron some acknowledgement is important, just as its important to remember she was Mrs Bellingham's cleaner, that she worked in the shop with Alf and her storyline with Lance."
Symons spent most of the past decade based in Britain, where she played barmaid Louise Appleton on the long-running soap Emmerdale.
It was, Symons says, a very busy decade.
"But during that period my marriage ended and my mother was unwell, so from 2004 onwards I was flying back and forth and as time passed it became more and more obvious to me that I needed to be back here supporting my family."
* Home and Away screen on TV3 at 5.30pm, Monday - Friday.
Sydney Morning Herald