In 1961 when I first moved to Sydney as an aspiring actor, I knew many at the Independent Theatre including my long time friend Maggie Dence.
I set my sights on the newly refurbished Music Hall Theatre at Neutral Bay. I determined I would play the villain in East Lynne, a part my grandfather had played late in the 19th century. I was twenty years too young for the part, but I virtually badgered my way into it, and there began a series of villains, some written unashamedly by me, for me! These established me in Sydney theatre and led directly to my being cast in the Mavis Bramston Show.
I remember the opening night of East Lynne vividly. The paint was barely dry on the set, but the evening was an enormous success and established the theatre for many years to come. Here is where the Independent Theatre and the Music Hall Theatre merged for one exchange which has lived long in my memory.
The redoubtable Doris Fitton, the anchor of the Independent, was resplendent at our opening. As well as her renowned credentials at the Independent, she was also well known for sleeping through entire theatrical productions, including some of her own. But this I didn't know when I was introduced to her after the performance, so I was startled when she asked ‘Which one were you, the hero or the villain?’
I replied modestly, ‘I was the villain.’
‘Oh yes,’ she said, ‘you were very good.’
I was relieved I hadn't played the hero, but less so when I discovered she’d dozed through much of the evening.
Those were heady days in Sydney theatre. The Ensemble, the Music Hall and the Independent were brave standouts when most of the mainstream theatres were filled with the lavish J.C. Williamson productions.
Sydney theatre has changed over the years, some for better, some (like the demolition of so many beautiful theatres) for worse. But the spirit established by the Independent and the Music Hall still exists, I’m sure. You might keep it alive by singing a few bars of the number I did in East Lynne: As the evil villain, I had only one redeeming moment—1 sang ‘I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard’, complete with soft shoe.
Thanks to Susan Mills, archivist at the S,B&W Foundation for her assistance in preparing this article, and to Barry Creyton for allowing us to republish his piece.
For more information about the Seaborn, Broughton & Walford Foundation, please visit: www.sbwfoundation.com