In the early 1960s Heather Randerson (stage name Heather Lindsay) took her parents’ advice and enrolled at Wellington’s Teachers College and Victoria University. She’d always loved acting in school productions, but at that point in New Zealand, a national drama school was the stuff of dreams. Lindsay married in 1965, and became a mother to three children.
Acting ambitions had to be put on the back-burner, but change was coming in the shape of influential drama teacher Nola Millar, who’d recently returned from overseas with the blueprint for a national theatre school. Millar initiated the New Theatre Club in Wellington, and started giving night classes at a venue in Cuba Street. Lindsay signed up and took part in one of Millar’s productions. “That was enough for me...I was re-ignited about acting again”.
In the mid 1970’s Lindsay got involved with Wellington’s Unity Theatre, before an invitation involving the recently launched TV One Television Directing course put her on a new path. Keith Aberdein asked her to audition to act in a two-hander he was presenting for the course. Watching her performance were Tony Isaac, Michael Noonan and Murray Reece, who were busy helping create Kiwi soap Close to Home. They offered Lindsay a part in their new venture, and on 8 May 1975, Lindsay became a regular presence on the nation’s television screens.
Christine Lorvatz and her extended clan were introduced to New Zealand viewers, and Close to Home staked its claim in prime-time. Lindsay remembers those early episodes as “a trial period”. The actors were on a 12 week contract, but as the show gained traction, this was soon extended. The early episodes proved stressful to film.
“The directors tried to do one take of half an hour! We were doing 12 to 14 hour days, we were challenged, the technicians were challenged and in the end they changed to scene by scene. It was a real training ground for me. There weren’t a lot of opportunities till Close to Home for television actors”.
Lindsay enjoyed playing Christine, although in true soap style the list of her travails would make anyone cry. “Her marriage wasn’t that happy, she battled breast cancer...it would have been good to see her lighten up a bit”. Today the career-driven character of Christine seems unremarkable, but in mid-70s New Zealand, still processing second wave feminism, this was a conscious choice of the writing team. Then again, Listener writer Karen Jackman’s 1978 description of Christine as being ‘the longest-running spinster in New Zealand’s longest running TV drama series” was probably a reflection that soaps run more on a character's tears, than what they do for a living. Christine’s marriage to David gripped the TV nation until Gavin and Gayle’s wedding fever hit in 1982. Lindsay spent four and a half intense years as core cast on the show, occasionally taking leave for stage roles.
“I did that several times throughout the years, asked if producers could give Christine a light-ish load so I could do stage work. It was a juggle, with a family, working at night. But I was doing what most women have to do now.”
In 1981 Lindsay was offered a juicy role in Loose Enz, a series of 12 stand alone dramas. The Good Samaritan was an intense two-hander featuring Lindsay and Peter Vere-Jones. Lindsay’s performance as a woman facing a crisis one night while under the influence, is made all the more impressive by the fact that — like early attempts on Close to Home — it featured long extended takes.
Another highlight was her appearance in 1985’s My First Suit (part of the About Face series) as the preoccupied mother of a teenage boy discovering his sexuality. “That was fun, quite surreal, almost black humour. Writer Peter Wells and director Stewart Main were so great to work with”.
In the 80s Lindsay featured in many high profile New Zealand dramas — with guest roles in Country GP, Mortimer’s Patch, offbeat drama Seekers, and that high-point of 80s Kiwi glamour, Gloss. “Gloss was fun. I got to work with George Henare and it was produced by my old friend Janice Finn, from Close to Home.”
But Lindsay felt herself drawn to tell stories closer to her own experiences as a working mother. From this impetus came Dual Roles, an RNZ documentary series exploring how carer and home-life balance can effect relationships. The subject matter provided rich territory. Seeking a comic piece that addressed ‘the super-woman of the 80s’ myth, she found it in Letters from a Faint-Hearted Feminist, a column by Brit Jill Tweedie. Lindsay wrote an adaptation, Conversations with a Faint-Hearted Feminist, and toured it around NZ, before taking the solo play to Sydney.
The 90s rolled in with roles in dramas City Life and Jackson’s Wharf. But Lindsay was increasingly drawn towards the north from her Auckland base; she has Ngāpuhi whakapapa, and belongs to the Te Hikutu hapu.
“I left Auckland in 1997. Prior to that I devoted myself to studying Te Reo, and that was really beginning to shift things for me.”
She found a piece of beach front land in Omapere in the Hokianga, and began to put down roots. Lindsay still travelled south for work, but was growing less keen to spend time “sitting in green rooms” [the room actors relax in before being called to perform].
In 2006 she had a major role in Roger Hall’s Spreading Out at Dunedin’s Globe Theatre, reuniting her with friends Jane Waddell and Janice Finn.
Today, alongside running the Hokianga Haven bed and breakfast, Lindsay’s creative focus goes into her photography. She is an exhibiting photographer, using images inspired by her whakapapa to tell stories.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell
Ali Bell, 'About Face: Seven Tales for Television' - Broadsheet, January 1987
Karen Jackman, 'The Workaday World of ‘Close to Home’ - The Listener, 20 May 1978, page 14
Vernon Wright, 'Home Truths From Avalon - The Listener, 12 March 1977, page 15
Loose Enz - The Good Samaritan (Television Drama) NZ On Screen website. Director John Anderson. Accessed 30 June 2016
About Face: My First Suit (Television Drama) NZ On Screen website. Director Stewart Main. Accessed 30 June 2016