Category Archives: Theatre

Blithe Spirit

Ghosts or Double Exposures ?

Nothing similar in the family albums but  in this family theatre program are some ghosts of a different kind on the stage of the Comedy  Theatre in Melbourne in 1945.  The  Blithe Spiritghost  in question is the spirit of a man’s first wife who turns up after a seance.  She can be seen  (and heard)  by the husband but not by the second wife or anyone else.

And of course the play is Blithe Spirit by the witty and cheeky Noel Coward.  Wikipedia reminds  us that ” the play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book.

The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance.    Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles’s marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.”

But there are many more twist and turns before the end.

Perhaps they should have staged the show a block away in The Princess Theatre which has its own resident ghost, that of a baritone playing in Faust who died just off stage in 1888.

In May 1945 Australia was still at war with Japan and the Military Hospital in the suburb of Heidelberg was very busy. The hospital had a theatre and with a replica Blithe Spirit set constructed the whole cast was able to pile Blithe Spirit - backinto a bus and go to Heidelberg to put on the show one afternoon.

With patients, bed cases  and staff there was no standing room left, with some patients needing to sit in the orchestra pit.  A most appreciative audience.

Meanwhile just across the road from the Comedy Theatre was His Majesty’s Theatre which that same year staged  The Desert Song with Max Oldaker  and his interpretation of The Red Shadow which I wrote about in a previous post

Also in 1945 a film was made of Blithe Spirit with Rex Harrison as the male lead and the wonderful Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati who conducts the seance.

Australian TV viewers might see a slight overlapping of the theme with the recent ABC production of “Glitch”  where the fortunate/unfortunate husband has both his living and his dead wife in his life at the same time.

Whereas Noel Coward was strictly for the laughs, Glitch is a serious look at the “what if” situation.  It has been described as an Australian Gothic and much of the shooting was done on summer evenings in my old home towm, the old gold town of Castlemaine in Central Victoria.

Further connections to ghosts and double exposures can be found in this week’ Sepia Saturday post.

 

 

 

 

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Theatre Props

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This week Sepia Saturday has suggested all things wine related as our theme.  What to do?

Have a look at the photo in the header.

Is that two bottles of wine on the table ?  Or is it one bottle of wine and one bottle of something else ?  I don’t think they are bottles of  tomato sauce   After all it is Paris.

Vera 1989

And this is a picture of my mother, Vera Fricke, taken on her 90th birthday in 1989.  Little did she know that one day this photo of her would go soaring around the world for many people to see.

So what is the connection between  my mother and the bottle of wine in the header image ?

I copied the header image from the front cover of a theatre program for a production of La Boheme in  1987, a performance my mother had attended.  Geelong was one of eight Victorian country towns where the show was presented by the Victoria State Opera.. It was early in the professional careers of a Girl from Geelong and a Boy from Ballarat, Cheryl Barker and David Hobson who played Mimi and Rodolfo

La Boheme 1987 programIt was a pleasure to see Cheryl Barker performing again in her home town  as I had first seen her as a teenager in the lead role of the Belmont  High School production of The Pajama Game, more than ten years earlier

Later in the early 1990s  the same pair  played the same roles in Sydney but this time the production was in the hands of Australian film director Baz Luhrmann  (The Great Gatsby, Moulin  Rouge, etc) with the design in the hands of his wife Oscar Winning designer  Catherine Martin. The opera  was  set in 1957 for this production and is now on video.

Here is an excerpt from Act i where Mimi and Rodolfo have just met and exchange information about themselves.  Enjoy. I know I do.

La Boheme was the first opera I saw on a stage in the late 1950s and has remained my favorite. That was in Melbourne long before the Victoria State Opera existed.  But Mr Google hasn’t been able to help me trace the performance. Among my many memories of that night is the entrance of Musetta in Act Two.  The result of her shopping is on the floor beside her.  An oval-shaped hat box is accidentally knocked over as a result of which it rolled towards the front of the stage ker-lunk…ker-lunk…ker-lunk… and bounced off one of the musicians in the orchestra pit while the singers sang on without missing a beat.  I’m sure there would have been some wine bottles among the theatre props on that night too.

See more wine related stories on this week’s Sepia Saturday.

Apollo Bay Hula Dancers

 Four Ballet Dancers

In reply to Sepia Saturday’s suggestion of four ballet dancers I give you …….

Four Hula Dancers, with their partners, late 1920s

Apollo Bay Hula Dancers late 1920sThe couples from the left are

Ron Telford and Hazel Fricke

Fenton Dobson and an unknown lady

Mr and Mrs Smith

Unknown man and May Telford

I don’t know where the photo was taken but I believe the group is from Apollo Bay.  Hazel Fricke and May Telford are cousins and Ron Telford is their first cousin once removed. Apollo Bay people were very good at putting on amateur enertainments.

Hula Dancing was  popular as an entertainment in  the era and both the men and the women are dressed appropriately.  The grass skirt or palm leaf skirt has been replaced with either paper streamers or perhaps ribbon, though I suspect the quantity of  ribbon needed would have proved expensive.  All are wearing leis and the women headbands to represent a wreath of flowers.

I can’t decide if the small ukeleles the men are holding are real or imitation. I can’t find similar images.

Hula dancers 1883These hula dancers were photographed in 1883 and can be seen in a most interesting collection of historical hula dancer photos on A Polar Bear’s Tale blogspot

But if you really want to put a smile on your face then have a look at this video made by some students at the University of Hawaii . It  gives some history of the dance then a very easy to follow lesson in doing the hula.  Do  join in.  Guaranteed to make you happy and relaxed.

And more dancing related posts can be seen through the links on Sepia saturday

 

Enjoying Music in the Fifties

My musical memories of the fifties are much more sedate than jukebox music  .  In fact I can’t even remember jukeboxes being around , that is how much effect they had on me.

But there was always music that made  your feet tap and functions to attend where there was ballroom dancing.  But to go dancing of course you needed a pretty dress and where better place to go in Melbourne than to Renee Rose in Swanston St, on the corner of Little Collins St at the base of the Century Building.

Renee Rose FrocksSo in 1952  I went to Renee Rose and  bought a very demure dress with a blue lace bodice, It had a Peter Pan collar and extended shoulder line and the full blue tulle skirt fell to mid calf, which  was called a ballerina dress.  The cost was a mere £11-19-6  .

Renee rose receipt  13-8-1951 bI’ve often wondered about the street address of the place where I was living  that year and lo and behold the receipt gives it to me. And most importantly it told me that the dress was an SSW. I can barely remember fitting into a dress that size.

And another correct address comes to me through another receipt with musical connections. In Pianists from the Past I mentioned how we came to buy a piano.  After it was transported from the country it needed some attention and this was done in 1955

Laurie fuller Piano Tuner  1955 Fitzroy bThe Closing Ceremony at the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956 was memorable and moving when a choir sang the anthem to the tune of Waltzing Matilda with especially written words, and then wove in that old phrase “Will ye nae come back to me”  to its own special tune.

Olympic anthem

Olympics ticket 27-11-1956 MCGI had been to the Olympics three times, twice with properly purchased tickets and once in a group of four with one ticket between us.  I presume there’s a statute of limitations on that little bit of activity.   But the Olympics were a really really big deal and we couldn’t get enough of them

All this time there were plenty of stage musicals to enjoy, finishing the decade in 1959 with My Fair Lady in Melbourne for the first time.  Along the way there was also a visit from The Band of the Irish Guards to enjoy  The concert was held at the New Olympic Swimming Pool which had been built for the Olympics, with a floor placed over the pool.

Irish Guards ticket  18-9-1957 b

Irish Guards program 1957 bThese are just highlights but music was there every day through radio, TV, a growing collection of vinyls and occasionally our own efforts such as playing the organ for an initial service of a church whose building had only reached the concrete slab state,

a - Playing the organ 3More music from the fifties over at Sepia Saturday

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The Red Shadow – in Melbourne

When young I didn’t have to contribute much to the household chores except for doing the dusting on a Saturday morning. On my mother’s dressing table was an old-fashioned cream celluloid photo frame displaying a photo of my father,     I discovered that there was a postcard photo of someone else slipped in behind my father.

Lance Fairfax as The Red Shadow in The Desert song, Melbourne, 1928

Lance Fairfax as The Red Shadow in The Desert song, Melbourne, 1928

I would put this photo of Lance Fairfax to the front and at some later stage someone would restore my  father to the front position without anything being said., week after week, after week.

In the photo Lance Fairfax (1899-1974) is pictured in his role as the Red Shadow in The Desert Song which had  opened in Melbourne in September 1928 for a 28 week run. Lance, who was born in New Zealand, had been a distinguished soldier in World War 1 and a sportsman, then pursued a career as a baritone both in Australia and overseas.

The Desert Song is an operetta by Sigmund  Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein.  At the time. the Arabs in North Africa were romanticized as they rebelled against French Colonial rule. Think of Beau Geste or Lawrence of Arabia.  In 1925 there was an uprising by a group of Moroccan fighters called the Riffs and this inspired the storyline for The Desert Song. Then in best Scarlet Pimpernel fashion we have the  quiet, uninteresting character who though known to us but not by the cast keeps transforming into the handsome and dashing hero who wins the beautiful maiden.

Of interest on the back of the postcard is Broadcasting Co of Australia Pty Ltd.  This the independent national public broadcaster founded in 1929 and which took over several other funded radio stations to form a single  whole.  There were many live broadcasts and Lance was a part of that.  The front of the postcard mentions 3LO and 3AR the two Melbourne stations.

Lance rode his horse on stage in the production of The Desert Song so it was interesting to see this newspaper report in 1931.

Lance Fairfax’s Steed. MELBOURNE, March 29. 1931

A horse used by Lance Fairfax in the operetta, The Desert Song, last night figured In an amazing accident In Carlton. The horse, which was attached to a cab. bolted half a mile. and then slipped in a gutter. The cab overturned on top of an Italian woman. Sablna Benporath. aged 30 and her three children, one of whom 13 months old was critically Injured. The others suffered minor injuries

The Desert Song was staged at his Majesty’s in Melbourne again in 1945 with Max Oldaker in the lead role.  This was my introduction to the Desert Song.

The outside and inside of the four-fold paper theatre programme in Melbourne in 1945

The show had  premiered on Broadway in 1926 and was made into an early sound film in 1929 which was very faithful to the original stage show,  Here is John Boles singing The Riff Song in the movie.

 

Isn’t that just gorgeous  !

Lance Fairfax played  the role of the Red Shadow in Melbourne in 1928 but I can’t find video of him in that role,  but here is  a very brief view of him singing Toreador in a movie of Carmen.

The 1929 movie of The Desert Song  has an interesting history. By the 1940s, the original 1929 film had become illegal to view or exhibit in the United States due to its Pre-Code content which included sexual innuendo, lewd suggestive humor and open discussion of themes such as homosexuality.   Well,Well !  I would dearly love to see a copy of that first movie just to see what I’ve been missing out on.

Dennis Morgan starred in the 1943  movie version which had the Red Shadow fighting the Nazis and now being call El Khobar instead of the Red Shadow.  And in 1953 there was a  “cleaned-up” version starring Gordon McRae and Kathryn Grayson , here singing The Desert Song.

 

In 1955 there was a live performance on TV  with Nelson Eddy of movies fame, in the lead role, the only time he performed a live role, here singing One Alone.

 

Barry Humphries once asked the second Melbourne Red Shadow, Max Oldaker,   how he managed to smile so sincerely at the curtain call on a thin Wednesday matinee. Humphries recorded: ‘He said, “Dear Barry, it’s an old trick Noel taught me, and it never fails.” He demonstrated, standing in the middle of the dressing room in his Turkish towelling gown, eyes sparkling, teeth bared in a dazzling smile. “Sillycunts,” beamed Max through clenched teeth, bowing to the imaginary stalls. “Sillycunts,” again, to the circle, the gods and the royal box. “It looks far more genuine than ‘cheese’, dear boy,” said Max, “and you’ve just got to hope that no one in the stalls can lip read.” I couldn’t help thinking of all my mother’s friends at those Melbourne matinees, their palms moist, hearts palpitating as Max Oldaker, the Last of the Matinee Idols, flashed them all his valedictory smile.’

What would we do without a little bit of nostalgia in our lives.

Sepia Saturday