Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

History revisited - performing arts shows town's dramatic side

The first “big” play that I ever intended was an Armidale Theatre Club production in the old Parish Hall. I was very young and it was quite frightening!

Why? It was a murder mystery about a serial killer. He had a desk that included a secret drawer in which was to be found a noose. He used this to strangle women.

To get to the drawer, he had to carry out a special movement, a sort of a hand wriggle. Now there I was in the dark of the Parish Hall, watching an aunt standing with her back to the murderer while he got out the noose. See why it was frightening?

During the week, Judith Ross Smith sent me her book Never Whistle in the Dressing room: a history of the Armidale Playhouse 1953-2003 (Kardoorair Press 2005). From that book, I know that the play was probably The Ladykiller, one of the fist productions of the Armidale Theatre Club.

That actually makes me feel very old!

Armidale and the surrounding area has a quite remarkable theatre tradition. At the time my girls were born there, we had a choice of fifty different productions within one hour’s drive of our home. That’s astonishing.

Armidale shares part of its story with the broader New England, the way in which smaller communities created their own fun. But there were also special features in Armidale associated with its role as an education centre for the broader New England and well beyond.

Many of those features are entwined in my own mind, either directly or through my knowledge of our area’s shared history.

In December 1923, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald announced that The Armidale School Dramatic Society would present the Greek play, "Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus" in the original Greek; the Quarrel Scene from Corneille's "Le Cid;' and "Gaspard de Coligny," by W. Wentworth Shields (an old boy)at the King's Hall. You could buy tickets at Paling's.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that an Armidale theatre group presented a play by an Armidale author to a Sydney audience. That’s interesting, but it was the reference to the original Greek that caught my eye.

Digging into the story a little, I found that the senior boys in the TAS Greek class, TAS then taught ancient Greek as well as Latin, wanted to make TAS and Armidale the Australian centre for studies concerned with classical Greek!Hoskins Centre

There is something wonderfully eccentric about this notion, but then theatre in Armidale has always seemed a little larger than life.

Today Armidale has many production venues. The photo shows the inside of the Hoskins Centre. That wasn’t always the case.

Initially, plays were presented in one of Armidale’s little halls or in the Town Hall. The opening of the Teacher’s College added a new venue. Then in March 1969, the Armidale Theatre Club opened the Armidale Playhouse as Armidale’s first dedicated venue. But that’s a story for another column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 December 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012(Belshaw's World), 2012 (History Revisited).

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