Australian Theatre in the 1950s: Popular Theatre, Intimate Revue and the Rise of the One-Man Show


This lecture is part of the series Feeble or forceful? Reappraising the 1950s in Australian performance, convened by Dr Chris Hay. Please register below based on if you would like to attend in-person or online. 

Australian theatre transformed in the 1950s. Numerous actors were starting out in their careers on the job or in the first intake of NIDA in 1958.  Others were gaining a foothold in the small theatres of Sydney and Melbourne, including the New Theatre. The Bostonian Hayes Gordon established the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney and offered intensive actor training to many young actors using the Method. Popular theatre flourished at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney and at the Phillip Street Theatre in the city. Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll premiered at the UTRC in Melbourne in 1955 and a few weeks later at the same theatre, Barry Humphries performed his housewife character, Mrs Norm Everage, for the first time, directed by Lawler. Later Manning Clark described Humphries as one of the “mythmakers and prophets of Australia … enriching the culture which had been dominated by the straiteners”. Peter Conrad called Humphries’ adolescence a “one-man modern movement” and the American theatre critic John Lahr praised Humphries’ art as a clown who takes the public to “the frontiers of the marvellous”. This lecture explores the early careers and milieu of a set of actors, writers and directors who were making their mark in the 1950s, whose work transformed Australian theatre for the next half century, and who brought a distinctive Australian theatre to the world. 


Date: Friday 15 October 2021

Time: 12–1pm

In-person location: The Writers Studio, Level 6 Michie Building, St Lucia Campus (registrations essential)

Online: Register below for the Zoom link and password

Reigster In-Person Event

Register Online Session


Anne Pender holds the Kidman Chair in Australian Studies at the University of Adelaide. She was Fulbright Senior Fellow at Harvard University in 2018 and held an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship 2012-2016. Anne is a former Menzies Scholar to Harvard and is a graduate of the Australian National University, the University of New South Wales, and Harvard University. Anne’s books include Seven Big Australians: Adventures with Comic Actors (2019), Players: Australian Actors on Stage, Television and Film (2016), From a Distant Shore: Australian Writers in Britain 1820-2012 (2013), One Man Show: The Stages of Barry Humphries (2010), Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright (2008) and Christina Stead: Satirist (2002).


Australian Theatre in the 1950s: Popular Theatre, Intimate Revue and the Rise of the One-Man Show

Fri 15 Oct 2021 12:00pm1:00pm