Person - Jock Levy
ABRAHAM JEROME LEVY (1916 - 2016)
Jock Levy was chair of the production committee for years and directed or was otherwise involved in at least 32 NT plays. Although untrained, he was constantly working in theatre. The standard of acting was variable at NT and as the better actors got professional work Jock was constantly training new people. Jock said that he made no money from his involvement in NT but the theatre was bigger than the individual ego and the New was his life’s work. He was made a Life Member in 1948.
Born in London's East End on 8 January 1916, he arrived in Sydney with his family in 1926 and had to drop out of school when the Depression hit. Jerome adopted the nickname Jock but was usually listed by his formal name in programs. He first worked in Yiddish theatre, satisfying the desire of many first and second generation Sydney Jews who wanted to continue their traditions. In 1937 he was reviewed as "remarkable" in the huge part of the idealist in the Jewish Youth Theatre's The Melting Pot staged at the Railway and Tramway Institute. In 1937 he also played Albany in King Lear at Bryant’s Playhouse. In 1939 Jerome Levy was one of the uniformly good cast in the Jewish Youth Theatre’s "excellent" The Petrified Forest and he was reviewed as "convincing" as Peretz Israel, the bookish, gentle son in Israel in the Kitchen, directed by George Paizie. With the increasing threat of Nazism, Jock’s group had a strong Jewish following but folded when it lost its premises. Jock then decided to join the wider anti-fascist movement.
His first NTL show was Plant in the Sun in 1939. In 1940 he took over a role from Russel Ward in Where's That Bomb? , played a coalminer opposite Freda Lewis in No Armistice, was the commentator in No Conscription, played Howell a preacher and miner in New Way Wins and was an "unconvincing" Rosetti in Boy Meets Girl. In 1941 he played Ernst in Till the Day I Die after its ban was lifted (Jock was in the 1936 audience at the Savoy Theatre the night it was raided by police) and, a "newcomer", directed Odets' Awake and Sing about a poor Jewish family in The Bronx.
In 1944 he directed Pioneers Katharine Susannah Prichard's one-acter about early Australia, a revival of Oriel Gray's Lawson, and Moliere's A Physician in Spite of Himself. In 1945, "with a keen feeling for the author's gusto", he directed Tartuffe, played Johnnie Paine in All Change Here, and directed Sons of the Morning. In 1946, wanting to reach a broader middle-class audience, he directed a successful season of Moliere, received good reviews in Tennessee Williams’ two-hander Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry and directed God Bless the Guv’nor. His performance as Crooks the old crippled Negro in Of Mice And Men captured "the plaintiveness of a wronged race with flashes of anger and pride".
In 1947 he directed and played Shura in The Shepherd and the Hunter, a mistake according to the Sydney Morning Herald reviewer "as he looked troubled, keeping an eye on the entrances and exits of his fellow actors, many of whom either mumbled or shouted". The same year Jock played the lead in Sons of the South ( which he didn't consider a good play) and "with emotional strength" played the lead Negro character in and directed Deep Are The Roots : "brilliantly dramatised ... the production temperate and compassionate and much of the acting very good". The season of this play was suddenly terminated as the royalties hadn't been paid and a return season of Moliere hastily rehearsed.
In 1948 Jock co-directed The Match Girls, dashingly played Brannigan in and directed Sean O’Casey’s The Star Turns Red ("passionate, anguished, magnificent theatre") and directed The Alchemist. In 1949 he co-directed the revue Pot of Message. In 1950 he directed We, The People , directed and performed in the revue Press the Point, and directed Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. In 1951 he directed How I Wonder!.
In 1952 Jock directed New Theatre's contribution to the Youth Carnival for Peace and Friendship Sky Without Birds by Oriel Gray. Criticised as a slapdash production, it had poor houses. Jock then resigned from the theatre, claiming he was opposed to the author's treatment of the Jewish question and had been persuaded to direct the play for heavy-handed political reasons. Jock then set up the WWF Film Unit with Norma Disher and Keith Gow.
It wasn't until 1977 that Jock returned to the New to direct the Kafkaesque The Captain of Köpenick . In 1980 he replaced John Armstrong as director of We Can’t Pay, We Won’t Pay and in 1982, for the New's 50th anniversary, he revived his production of The Alchemist with its original designer Cedric Flower.
Jock enlisted in the AIF in 1942 but was rejected in 1943 on medical grounds, after which he worked at Hawker de Havilland. In 1942 he married Jeanette Shaw, cousin of David (“Buzzy”) Hyman who had also come to the NTL from the Jewish Youth Theatre. After joining NT in 1979, Jock's son Gregg Levy directed the children's show The Three Secrets in 1980 and Here Comes Kisch! in 1984. Gregg was also on committee in charge of Workshop.
There is a lot online about Jock Levy who was appointed OAM in 2010 and who died on 30 July 2016. An oral interview, taped in 1995, is held by the National Library of Australia.