Australians, emerging from a convict colony through Federation and two world wars, have been both proud and confused about their origins, their identity and what kind of country they wanted Australia to be. From AustraliaGÇÖs first Hamlet to Laurence OlivierGÇÖs lordly post-war tour, the aspiring middle-classes
turned to actors for models of gentility. These Lords of the stage became cultural missionaries; the Larrikins of low comedy retaliated with satire. Shakespeare was the principal weapon in this war, drawing in patrons, politicians and critics, while in the vaudeville houses comedians like Roy Rene upheld the legend of the GÇÿrealGÇÖ Australia. Then, in 1970, just as public funding fuelled again the rise of a high-art culture, a bevy of larrikins led a new assault to subvert it. In this unique perspective on the public function of the male performer in Australia, Kath Leahy asks some penetrating questions about why the cultural cringe lasted so long, and why even today the old insecurity still calls for control of the artist.
Lords and Larrikins
The Actor's Role in the Making of Australia
Non Fiction /
1 Reader Reviews
Academically focused history of acting and theatre in Australia
What does it mean to be an actor in Australia? And how do the illusions and identities actors have shaped on Australian stages helped to shape Australia? This book is the doctoral thesis on this theme by Kath Leahy - but is surprisingly readable (or is it just me who always thought that a thesis for a PHd had to be so academic that it could not be read and enjoyed by anyone outside of the academic world?)
I will correct myself slightly here - I found MOST of the book very readable, although the portions that interpret the interplay between character choices, actions, and the places that actors were allowed in society and why were occasionally difficult to follow. These only make up a fairly small portion of the book however, leaving most of the book very readable in my opinion. I found the introduction to be the most academically focused; if the non academic reader can survive the introduction, then most of the rest of the book is an easy (and a fairly enjoyable) read.
To me, the main audience for this book will be those who want to know about the history of acting and theatre in Australia; it provides a partial biography of a number of different actors, producers, and theatre owners, from the 1830s to the 1970s, including Barnett Levy, George Coppin, James Anderson, Walter Montgomery, Allan Wilkie, Roy Rene, Sir Laurence Olivier, John Bell, Gary McDonald, Reg Livermore and Barry Humphries. It also introduces many of the cultural issues, expectations and limitations at the time, such as why Barnett Levy opened the first purpose-built theatre in Australia in the 1830s but, even though an actor and performer himself, did not have a major role in the opening events; and the Great Melbourne Hamlet Controversy of the 1860s.
This book not only provides a good introduction to acting and theatre in Australia from the 1830s to the 1970s, but also places the people and events within their lives, within the culture and events occurring within Australia at the time. We discover the history of acting and theatre within the context of the history, development, and culture of Australia itself. While this book is intended for academic audiences, I also recommend it to anyone interested in the history of acting and theatre within Australia, as a good kind of summary of people, experiences, attitudes and events occurring over a broad swath of Australian history.