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Oz’s golden age

Half a century of drama down under


  • The Union Theater Repertory Co. is established by the U. of Melbourne with Brit legiter John Sumner as topper. Before this there was no professional company in Australia; theater was either amateur or imported. Early members of the company include Zoe Caldwell, Patricia Conolly, Noel Ferrier, Frank Gatliff, Barry Humphries, Reg Livermore, Monica Maughan, Frederick Parslow, Alex Scott and Frank Thring.

  • On Aug. 31, debut production of Jean Anouilh’s “Colombe” opens at Melbourne U. Sumner directs the cast including 19-year-old Caldwell and two ex-students, Alex Scott and George Fairfax. Sumner directs most of the 15 plays in first season, Caldwell appears in 14.


  • Season three sees Sumner exit to be general manager at the Australian Elizabethan Theater Trust. Thesp Ray Lawler takes over as topper and his “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll” becomes the first Australian play staged by UTRC. Sumner directs, and Lawler stars with June Jago, Carmel Dunn, Roma Johnston, Noel Ferrier and Fenella Maguire. Next production is “Return Fare,” a UTRC revue directed by Lawler that includes the debut of Moonee Ponds housewife Mrs. (later Dame) Edna Everage, performed by Barry Humphries, in the sketch “Olympic Hostess.”


  • Lawler exits UTRC to tour “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll” to London’s West End, winning the Evening Standard’s best play award. Wal Cherry becomes the third topper.


  • Sumner returns as topper.


  • Barry Pree’s “The Mystery of a Hansom Cab” becomes the company’s first commissioned play from its first writer-in-residence.


  • World preem of Patrick White’s “A Cheery Soul.”


  • Company moves from the U.’s Union Theater to the Russell Street Theater, and changes its name to the Melbourne Theater Co.


  • Scribe David Williamson makes his MTC debut with “Jugglers Three.”


  • Company takes a lease on St. Martin’s theater in South Yarra.


  • Lawler’s “Kid Stake” premieres.


  • World preem of David Williamson’s most famous play, “The Club.”


  • Athenaeum Theater is the new home of company’s major productions.


  • Roger Hodgman directs his first MTC production: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”


  • Hodgman becomes associate director. MTC moves its mainstage productions to the Victorian Arts Center’s Playhouse; first up is Caldwell in “Medea.”


  • Sumner retires, Hodgman appointed topper and directs “Sweeney Todd.” Simon Phillips directs his first MTC production, Jill Shearer’s “Shimada.”


  • Hodgman exits, Phillips appointed topper. Hannie Rayson’s “Life After George” preems, generating two sell-out seasons.


  • Fiftieth anni sees world preem of Rayson’s “Inheritance,” and Caldwell and Scott are reunited in “The Visit,” directed by Phillips.
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