The 1960s - War and Peace

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The Cold War continued into the 1960s. Writers such as Bill Brown saw Press bias against the USSR as a major issue:

Editor: Right boys, we’ve got a busy day ahead of us. Three rapes, two murders, a suicide and a juicy robbery with the nightwatchman still hovering near death with his brain laid bare to the bone, all in one night.

Reporter 1: Sensational, boss.

Reporter 2: Yeah terrific. That’s real news, boss. All front page stuff eh?

Miss Heartright (entering): Here’s a startling cable from our man in Moscow. It says that Soviet doctors can now put patches on the human heart, replace broken knee, shoulder and hip joints with artificial ones that work perfectly, and new steel wire nerves –

Editor: Yes yes Miss Heartright, tell them to cut it down to a one-inch single column story to help fill page 47.

Among the many revue items critical of Press standards was the rock-and-roll parody Rot Around the Clock:

There’s the front page crime and page three lust

The close-up shot of a gorgeous bust

We give them rot around the clock all night

We give them rot, rot, rot till the broad daylight

Give ‘em rot, give ‘em rot around the clock all night.

The first St Peters Lane production in 1963 was Millard Lampell’s The Wall directed by Paul Williams.

At dress rehearsal the auditorium floorboards were being hammered into place and the walls painted, and on opening night the set was still being constructed and the front row seats screwed into place as the audience gathered in the foyer. During the performance there were noisy scene changes involving “prolonged and agitated manoeuvring behind an unsatisfactory curtain”, and during the run of the play undisciplined stage fights resulted in a string of accidents from bruising to lacerations needing stitches. Despite these problems, the play drew audiences.

In 1943 Jews trapped behind a wall of Warsaw’s ghetto stage an unsuccessful uprising against their Nazi captors. The large cast included Denise Perry, Jennifer Cullen, Lawrence Leabon, and Frank Hardy’s son Alan.

Winner of the 1962 Arts Council Drama Festival City Zone Section, Willis Hall’s The Long and the Short and the Tall is not overtly propagandist but a drama revealing the protagonists’ different backgrounds and expectations.

In 1942 a British army patrol trapped in a hut in the Malayan jungle during the Japanese advance on Singapore have to work out what to do with a Japanese infantryman they have captured.

Postmark Zero by Russian-American Robert Nemiroff was a dramatisation of letters written by German soldiers during the siege of Stalingrad 1942-3, pieced together with commentary. Directed by Roger Milliss and designed by his brother David, it was reviewed as a bit long at three hours and a bit earnest, but worth a visit because of NT’s convictions. John Tasker was impressed by the energy of 1968 newcomer John Hargreaves.

Advertised as a peace play, Operation Olive Branch, Ewan MacColl’s adaptation of Lysistrata, had a cast (including Vincent Gil and Rod Quinn) covering 29 speaking roles.

In the opening night audience were a Soviet Union Peace Delegation and other overseas delegates. An interpreter translated loudly during the performance. NT Secretary Miriam Hampson brushed off complaints ~ the cause of peace and friendship was more important than people being irritated.

Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year was staged in 1964 with John Gray as Alf, John Nixon Rabbitts as Hughie and Stan Polonsky as Wacka.

A ditty in the 1965 revue You’ve Never Had It So Good was by Pat Flower:

Everyone’s using Nuclear

The dirtiest wash of all –

Simply press the button

And watch the fall-out fall!

With Patti Asange replacing Norma Polonsky in the title role, Brecht’s Mother Courage was staged in 1966. Opening night finished after 11 pm and during the long scene breaks the curtain was closed and the audience subjected to the sounds of scene shifting (one viewer thought this a Brechtian touch). But the show tightened and was well received with Carole Skinner’s Kattrina reviewed as impressive and Asange as a towering figure in a mammoth role. The live chicken ~ its neck was "wrung" on stage ~ was sold after the final curtain. A new production of Mother Courage was mounted in 1998.

After a long search for material opposing the Vietnam War the theatre devised its own On Stage Vietnam in 1967, its key creators Mona Brand, Patrick Barnett and Roger Milliss who devised a stylistic mix of stage, slides, mime and dance drama requiring split-second timing of FX and involving 34 people.

The show drew audiences, an extra weekly performance was added, and it was taken to Gordon and Sydney University. Security was improved after 22 slides were stolen; they were remade courtesy of Tribune. The New was attacked by the NSW Education Minister for charging half price admission for children and for publicising the show in the Teachers Federation journal where children might see it. The New also regularly sent petitions, telegrams and letters opposing the Vietnam War to the US Consul and Prime Ministers Menzies and Holt.

A revue item was The Hocus Pocus Stomp:

You put your first foot in

You move the French right out

You put your small arms in

And you shake them all about

You do the hocus pocus

Twist the facts all around

And that’s what it’s all about.

Speakers who addressed NT members included Tribune’s Rex Chiplin who spoke of his trip to Japan for a Hiroshima Peace Conference. Theatre members continued to be involved in outside events such as the 1962 Radial Peace March and the “Sing in Time to Beat the Bomb” concert at the Trocadero, compered by John Armstrong and featuring the poet Denis Kevans who held the audience of 1500 spellbound.

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