Bea Smith vs Joan Ferguson: “It’s on!”


“The battle is on,” warns Pamela Rabe.

“It’s pretty clear. The battle lines are well and truly drawn and we learn that Bea Smith is a viable opponent to Joan. But I don’t think Joan Ferguson would ever go down without a fight.

“I think she secretly enjoys the challenge of a worthy opponent. So it’s on.”

When Wentworth resumes next week fans will not be disappointed as two of its fiercest characters prepare to draw first blood.

The impact of a massive Season Two finale, in which Bea Smith escaped to wreak revenge on the death of her daughter, still resonate within the prison walls.

It will mark the second season for Pamele Rabe as Governor Joan Ferguson. Based on the character depicted by Maggie Kirkpatrick in TEN’s Prisoner, she is a richly dark character.

“I love her. It’s the gift that I was given by Maggie and the writers from the original series. But where these writers and producers are taking her is glorious,” says Rabe.

“I’ve always said she is someone interested in maintaining order and control in an environment that is always teetering on the edge of chaos. But she actually enjoys that kind of battle for equilibrium.

“She tests herself by swinging the curve balls that come her way, but they are certainly coming thick and fast at the top of season three -from all quarters.

“As the battle royale commences between her and Bea Smith you do get a development in the story and how it impacts on Joan as a whole person.”

Season Three introduces Pia Miranda as inmate Jodie Spiteri, Libby Tanner as psychologist Bridget Westfall and Tammy MacIntosh as vigilante Karen Proctor to its already-strong ensemble.

“I think one of the great skills of the Wentworth writers is their ability to keep a lot of peoples’ whole stories bubbling along so that you can focus in on Season Two with Liz Birdsworth, Vera Bennett, Frankie Doyle as well as Bea Smith. To keep all of those on the burner and keep the audience engaged in the rich, complex lives of a large group of characters is no mean feat,” says Rabe.

“The writers of the original Prisoner series knew that a hothouse environment where it’s all contained in those walls, Drama is bound to happen.”


“They yell stuff out of cars about how much they love the show”

And Drama gets the fans excited. Since her debut as Joan Ferguson, Rabe as had to oblige for plenty of “selfies” and getting yelled at in airport lounges. Thankfully it’s always complimentary.

“The difference between theatre and screen fans is that the fact that you have been in people’s lounge rooms and as TVs get bigger and bigger, the impact of your presence in their lounge rooms is monumental. They feel that you are part of their lives. There’s also an instantaneous emotional response to seeing you in the flesh,” she explains.

“It’s this uncensored, unchecked bellowing of response from people. They yell stuff out of cars about how much they love the show, or something about what’s happening between the characters. It’s instant, invested and often quite emotional.

Whilst she doesn’t engage with online conversation, sometimes diehard fans will go one step further.

“People do their homework and find out where I am playing and they show up at theatre companies. They are like little detectives, it’s extraordinary how they track you down. It’s great that the show has that impact,” she continues.

“It’s every viewers right to scream at the TV through their Twitter feed, but I’m not interested particularly in (participating in) that. When they make an effort to seek me out as an actor to talk about the show, all of that has been glorious.”

As Prisoner, Orange is the New Black, Oz and Prison Break have all demonstrated, the combination of prison characters and television drama promises a devoted fanbase.

“I wonder what that is. There’s also something that happens in a prison or school environment where there is a single-sex factor, that’s rather interesting. And in male prisons too. There is something very potent about having one gender represented,” she suggests.

“There’s great scope for having complex, interesting parade of skilled female acting talent. But there is something else as well. Maybe it taps into a metaphor for our lives that we all feel in some way a little trapped. Perhaps a prison environment is a metaphor for the way we all handle the pressures of daily living and we enjoy seeing it played out on a grand scale. I don’t know what the answer to that is…”

Perhaps the answers will lay in the new season. Or in the battle between Bea and Joan. Either way, there are no spoilers from Rabe.

“Expect the unexpected. There are lots of twist and turns.”

Wentworth returns 8:30pm Tuesday on SoHo.


  1. Dare I say Pamela Rabe is a better freak than Maggie Kirkpatrick. That may sound sacreligious to some people but its just my opinion. Apologies to Maggie.

  2. I’m so glad Pamela has been subjected to more vocal positive public responses from fans. I believe Maggie Kirkpatrick was often subjected to verbal abuse (ironically because she played the part so darn well!). The transformation from the meek, fragile Vera to the awful Vinegar Tits was also brilliantly done and I can’t wait to see how she plays off against Joan this season.

  3. Ms Rabe is an astonishingly gifted actor. She owns the screen everytime she appears. A great addition to the already solid cast of Wentworth.
    Kate Atkinson as Vera Bennett is also top notch. She gets the balance just right between morally strait laced and vulnerablity – something I had thought would not be explored in this new translation.
    In the original Prisoner, Fiona Spence got the tone perfectly, and although many viewers saw her as the Vinegar Tits baddie, there was a very real sadness and loneliness written in to her character.
    Wentworth is quite easily the best scripted drama out of Australia in quite a while.

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