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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Sonya Rebecchi by Carol Ann Wood

There seem to be quite divided opinions with regards the character of Sonya Rebecchi, née Mitchell, given the comments I have heard and read from fellow Neighbours viewers since her arrival in Ramsay Street. Broadly speaking, Eve Morey’s wonderful portrayal of this vibrant, colourful character seems to have placed viewers into the ‘like’ or dislike’ camp with most major story lines she’s been involved in. And let’s face it, she's had a fair few major stories!

I’m not going to attempt to recount everything Sonya has been through since her introduction to the show; there would not be enough space in one article. I want to look at the way Sonya handles situations, and what makes her tick, with particular focus on the current, dramatic storyline. Sonya is in for a very testing time in the coming months. Toadie’s paralysis is a huge and devastating thing for the couple to deal with, which will impact emotionally, physically and financially. Their lives have been changed, possibly for ever, if Toadie doesn’t walk again. We are familiar with Sonya’s vulnerabilities, given her previous addictions to gambling and alcohol. She’s a busy, working mother, and now she has to help Toadie adjust to life as a wheelchair user. How she deals with this will make compelling viewing, and I have no doubt that the writers will treat this storyline with sensitivity to portray the effect that unexpected disability has on an entire family.

How well or otherwise Sonya copes with the situation will be partially shaped by her previous life experiences and the elements of her complex personality. Sonya is someone who has a strong need to be all things to all people. She is very intense, and cannot help herself becoming involved in the lives of her neighbours, whenever she senses that they are in trouble. This is what irritates some viewers, who comment that she needs to butt out and mind her own business. However, even if you think Sonya’s ways too interfering, you cannot argue that her compassion and empathy are insincere. She has Utilitarian ideals: she wants the greatest good for the greatest number of people. But Sonya also has an addictive personality, and the writers have shown us that she will have times when she’s tempted back into her old habits if she is stressed. Thus far, she’s always managed to pull herself back from the edge, but in part, this has been dependent on her ability to help others in their own recovery. Whether it’s other former gamblers like Lucas Fitzgerald and Chris’s mum, Patricia, or those with alcohol problems like Bailey Turner, and presently, Terese Willis, Sonya is there at the drop of a hat to lend support. This is sometimes regardless of whether the recipient is willing to accept help, or not. Sonya just isn’t capable of sitting back and watching others fall apart.

Maybe some viewers misunderstand Sonya’s intentions. She is remorseful about her own past, giving her heightened awareness of the misfortunes or erroneous ways of others. She doesn’t think she is morally better than anyone else; she recognises how easy it is to make bad decisions and hurt people the way that she once did. Sonya is an empath: she genuinely feels the pain of those around her, and believes that she has a duty to reach out to her neighbours in times of need. This renders her vulnerable and even a bit naive at times. We have become used to Susan and Karl Kennedy inviting near-strangers into their home over the years, and Sonya has followed in their footsteps. A man posing as her and Jade’s long-lost uncle Walter Mitchell was, in no time at all, living with the Rebecchis. Viewers sensed that this man wasn’t genuine: Sonya’s propensity to trust in people she doesn’t know very well often ends badly. She befriended Jacob, a single parent who was still grieving for his late wife, and when Jacob mistook this friendship for something more, it put a strain on Toadie and Sonya’s marriage. She took in her old friend Erin, even after discovering that it was she who had started a hate-campaign against her. Sonya’s weakness, if you can call it such, is that she believes she can save everyone. She sees the potential for good in people, which is a beautiful and admirable sentiment in life, but she needs to accept that not everyone is able to be saved from their mistakes. And, unfortunately, not everyone wants to be.

Sonya puts her heart and soul into anything and everything in which she believes. She’s committed to vegetarianism and ecological issues, and running her plant nursery is important to her. Her intensity is not always an asset though. She – and Toadie to an extent – seem to fuss a little too much over toddler daughter Nell, but in Sonya’s case, it’s clear that this is because she feels an inner guilt at not being there for Calum when he was younger. That guilt includes the shock she gave Toadie and Callum with the revelation that she was Callum’s biological mother who had once abandoned him, and she’s been trying to compensate for this ever since. With Callum almost an adult, and currently studying in America, Sonya’s focus is on Nell, and she’s determined her daughter will receive undivided attention until she’s at least thirty

Now that Toadie is disabled, the pair will have to guard against over-indulging Nell to compensate for the fact that her daddy cannot run around and play with her in the same way he did previously. Small children can adapt very quickly to the most radical of changes, but they are also very astute at playing situations for their own benefit. I can envisage Nell, adorable though she is, wrapping her parents round her little finger!

One aspect of Sonya’s personality that I especially love is her quirkiness. I like that she doesn’t conform to anyone else’s beliefs for the purpose of fitting in. She has a strong sense of fairness and justice, and this doesn’t always sit well with Toadie’s profession as a lawyer. We all know that part of a lawyer’s role is to clear the names of their clients, and Sonya has felt uncomfortable about some cases which Toadie has taken on, given that many have involved other residents of Ramsay Street. Sonya will not compromise on anything she feels strongly about, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Even though she knows people will not necessarily agree with her, she has a firm belief that, at some point, they will come round to her way of thinking or, at least, to respect her views.

Sonya doesn’t even conform when it comes to apparel. I have read comments about the character’s dress sense which I think are unfair and judgemental. We all have our own preferred way of dressing. Why should Sonya dress like everyone else? And why would she? Some might call her a hippy type, or an earth-mother, but she is simply expressing part of her personality with her colourful kaftans. You couldn’t imagine her in a wrap-dress, à la Terese, or Va-Va-Voom heels like Naomi. I was therefore delighted when, after Naomi made a play for Toadie, we didn’t see Sonya having any anxiety about her appearance. Too often in soaps, when we see a husband pursued by a glamorous woman, we next see the wife agonising about changing her style.

This would have been a travesty for Sonya, and untrue to her character. Toadie, thankfully, did not cheat on Sonya with Naomi, and he definitely isn’t someone who places more emphasis on glamour than personality. He loves Sonya and thinks she is beautiful just as she is. And it’s clearly implied that the pair have enjoyed a healthy, happy love-life: The look on Sonya’s face when she opened the Mother’s Day gift Toadie had intended for mum Angie was a laugh-out-loud moment. One could only imagine the shock on Angie’s face when she received the saucy outfit meant for Sonya!

Returning to the current storyline, we don’t yet know the eventual outcome of Toadie’s paralysis. What we do know, is that in real life, there is often no fairy tale ending where the person in the wheelchair suddenly starts to feel movement in their legs, or gets up and walks for a special occasion. For most, paralysis is their future, and they have no choice but to accept it and adapt to it. Sonya will be torn between not wanting Toadie to give up hope of recovery and helping him accept that the wheelchair might be his for life. The viewers will also be torn, because whilst we acknowledge that the writers will want to make the story realistic, we want Toadie to walk again because he’s a popular character.

Sonya now has to face re-evaluating her life. She is better at giving than receiving help, and although we can understand her irritation towards mother-in-law Angie, (which of us wouldn’t be irritated by Angie!) Sonya will need all the practical help that she can get. If that includes an occasional visit from Angie, she’ll have to accept it, even if it means having to button her lip when Angie makes one of her barbed comments. Both women, after all, love Toadie and want the best possible outcome for him. Sonya needs to work because Toadie is currently not earning. And she might have to curb her philanthropic urges. We have previously seen her agree to reduce her role with Gambler’s Anonymous, but she has continued to give herself freely to all who surround her. In her changed circumstances, will she still feel that urge to help anyone she encounters? Or will she focus entirely on Toadie’s rehabilitation/adjustment to the extent that he feels suffocated by her boundless positivity?

I hope that Sonya and Toadie come through this difficult period in their marriage relatively unscathed, albeit not unchanged, as that would be impossible. I especially hope that whatever the outcome of Toadie’s paralysis, Sonya doesn’t lose her way and start gambling or drinking again. Sonya and Toadie are good together, even if you remembered Toadie and Dee with fondness and hated the way that Dee was written out. Sonya is highly emotional, often over-anxious, excitable, and strong-willed. But she is also warm, intelligent, fun-loving, compassionate, fruity, and vivacious. In my opinion she is one of the best female characters to have been introduced into the show in recent years, for reasons of her personality. We’ve seen so much emotion from her, but there’s nothing to suggest that we cannot see a whole lot more. I would like to see Sonya and Toadie continuing as stalwarts of the street like Karl and Susan (but hopefully without any break-ups or affairs!) I want to see Sonya mellowing ever-so slightly without losing her vibrancy and positivity.

Eve, I admire you for being so believable in this role as the whirlwind that is Sonya. Sonya can be ‘a bit much to take’ at times, but, I can say without doubt that, if she were real, I would be very proud to have her as my friend. Although, if she rekindled her enthusiasm for naked dinner parties, I think I’d have to pass on that!

This article originally appeared on Carol's blog, Levelling The Playing Field.