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GRADS 1979-1996

These personal recollections of GRADS in the period 1979-1996 are edited from a series of Facebook posts that I made in 2017, prior to the Society’s AGM for that year. GRADS had been inactive for some time, and I was hoping to spark interest in the future by looking back to the past…


As I understand it (please correct me if your knowledge is greater) Grads had gone into a lay-off period during the 1970s. I don't know why. Very few productions are recorded, and those were mostly in non-University venues. It seems that towards the end of the 1970s a new committee was able to convince the University to release some funds held in trust, and to make University venues available.

This enabled Peter Mann to direct a joint production with UDS of the Theban Plays by Sophocles, in the Sunken Gardens in 1979. This was ambitious and successful, and in the summer of 1980 a production of Shakespeare’s King John was mounted in the New Fortune, also with UDS. This was also ambitious but somewhat less successful – it’s a difficult play – and the association with UDS ended at this point. Nevertheless it gathered together a fine cast, including the return to theatre of David Goodall. Read the cast list closely.

In mid-1980 Grads moved to the (New) Dolphin. Jeana Bradley, the grande-dame of University theatre, returned from retirement to direct Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’. It played to packed houses but lost money, as it ran for only four nights.

In the summer of 1981, Peter Mann directed Wycherley’s ‘Country Wife’ at the New Fortune. Peter had a particular thing for Restoration Comedy. Some might call it his downfall.

Jeana Bradley returned again in mid-1981 to direct Shakespeare’s ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ at the Dolphin. It was a success but once again lost money, I believe, possibly because of the expense of the set, which was designed by Philippa O’Brien.

At this point the committee seems to have become cautious. There was no summer production in 1982. In mid-1982 grads collaborated with UDS and the UWA English Department on Timothy West’s production of Middleton’s ‘Women Beware Women’ at the Octagon. Then another hero from Grads glorious past, Joan Pope, stepped in to direct John Arden’s ‘the Happy Haven’ at the Dolphin. This was a quirky piece, and a bit outré for audiences. I liked it, but the committee's caution increased.

Grads did not produce any shows in 1983, except for an acted reading and musical performance at Dalkeith Hall – ‘A Night in Bath’. It was a very successful event, featuring Frank Bennett as the wonderfully urbane master of ceremonies. At this time Peter Mann was also organising play-readings and acting classes for younger members at St George’s College.

In mid-1984, Peter mounted a production of J. M. Barrie’s ‘Dear Brutus’ at the Dolphin. It is my understanding that he went ahead with this production without the committee’s approval. Fortunately for him it was a significant success, but there were ructions on the committee, as you might expect. Still, the success gave Grads a boost, and propelled it into the second half of the 1980s.

At which point I will stop boring you. More to come?


I ended my last post with the success, in 1984, of Peter Mann's production of Dear Brutus, which got Grads back on the boards after a period of inactivity. Later in the year Peter returned to his love of Restoration comedy with Vanbrugh's The Provok'd Wife at the Dolphin. Wigs! Frilled cuffs! Red heels! He loved that stuff, but audiences were less keen.

In the summer of 1985, David Goodall directed Anouilh's Amphitryon 38 at the New Fortune. It featured the stage debut of Grads' newest star, Chrissy Lindsay, who had stage managed Dear Brutus. This mythological French farce was perhaps not ideally suited to the cavernous outdoor stage, but it featured a fine cast, including Arthur Pate and Lucia Lang, and the indefatigable Tony Pierce, who had just recovered from a stroke.

In March 1985 Caroline Thornton directed Wilde's 'Woman of No Importance' at the Dolphin. My abiding image of this successful production was of the wonderful Renee Bennett having to be audibly prompted for the line "I have such a terrible memory" - the audience loved it. Whatever happened to prompters? Grads had an excellent one in the 1980s. (I have forgotten her name. Can someone remind me?)

In June a double-bill of one act plays was presented - Geoff Bennett's Shelter from the Storm, a locally written play, directed by Richard Scut. and Peter Mann's production of the Rattigan theatrical farce Harlequinade.

Later in the year Noelann Gandon directed The Farndale Macbeth at the Dolphin. Noelann was a red-headed chain-smoking WACAE drama lecturer (pre-WAPAA), and a great personality. The broad Shakespearian parody was huge fun.

In the summer season of 1986, in the Sunken Gardens, Peter Mann returned to his love of Restoration comedy - again! there was no stopping him! - with Dryden"s Marriage a la Mode.

In early 1985 Maureen Eaton brought Grads some way into the world of community theatre, from which it had been previously isolated. She directed the crowd-pleasing Lionel Bart musical Lock Up Your Daughters. This production also involved members of PUCS, which was a gain for the society.

Mid year a double bill of one act plays was presented - Ionesco's The Lesson and Exit the King. Jonno Beckett made his debut playing the titular King and exited with great style.

Later in the year Peter Mann directed The Brontës of Haworth. It was a rather old fashioned biographical play, but the performances were excellent. To single out Frances Dharnalingam's moving performance would be unfair to the other actors, but I shall do so anyway.

Enough already. Stay tuned for 1987 and later…


In April of 1987, Lesley Derksen directed a mediaeval double-bill of Everyman and The Fall of Man at the Dolphin, showcasing the fine figure of David Goodall as Everyman. This was followed mid-year, by An Edwardian Soiree, a musical entertainment presented in a private house.

 In August Maureen Eaton directed Turgenev’s melancholy Russian drama A Month in the Country, with very strong performances from Peter Thompson and Lucia Lang.

In May 1988, Joan Pope produced an art-deco inspired version of Shaw’s political comedy The Apple Cart. Peter Mann played the King. He had not intended to play the role, but had to step in to replace a missing actor. Peter was a fine performer, but notoriously bad at remembering his lines. The extremely wordy role must have been a severe trial for him. He read much of his part from a clipboard – I don’t know if the audience noticed.

In August, Noelann Gandon directed Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge. It was a very strong and successful production.

In October Caroline Thornton directed Machiavelli’s Renaissance comedy Mandragola. You don’t see that play every day. It was good fun. Natalie Sugden and her team deserve credit for the costumes – they were Grads’ unsung heroes throughout the 1980s

In the summer of 1989, Peter Mann used St Margaret’s Hall in Nedlands for a production of Vanbrugh’s The City Wives. Another Restoration comedy! This must have been his last full production for Grads, save for a moved reading of Priestley’s Time And The Conways at the Irwin Street building later in the same year. He passed away in the early 1990s. He was a wonderful man.

In April, Keith Hall from Playlovers directed The Miracle Worker, featuring Angelique Malcolm. This show also featured Grant Malcolm’s first work for the Society. Keith had to step in to play a major role, so Grant took over directorial duties. It was a quiet start to a new era for Grads.

Later in the year Noelann Gandon followed on from the success of A View From The Bridge with a production of Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, also featuring her student Richard Kane in the leading role.

In April 1990 an acted reading of The Playgoers/The Farewell Supper is noted as having taken place at St Margaret’s Hall, directed by Gordon Gregson, a white haired, red faced, booming voiced old thespian. I didn’t see this production. By this stage my life was starting to move beyond the circle of Grads. But I did help to build a rather fine (and last minute) set for Pat Stroud’s product ion of Billy Liar at the Dolphin in May. It had a very good young cast, who like all very good young casts were lost to Grads immediately after.

In August, Maureen Eaton presented the popular Broadway musical The Fantasticks at the Dolphin. And in November, Caroline Thornton presented another musical in the Dolphin, Ebenezer, based on the Christmas Carol.

In the first half of 1991 Grads seems to have produced only an acted reading of The Knight Of The Burning Pestle (only parts, I presume) for Convocation in the Hackett Hall Undercroft, directed by Lesley Derksen. It must have revived memories for older Grads of the same play performed at the New Fortune in 1969, apparently an ambitious and memorable production, directed by Jeana Bradley.

In August, a double-bill of Greek plays – Ted Hughes’ knotty adaptation of Seneca’s Oedipus and my own adaptation of Euripides’ Alkestis – took to the stage at the Dolphin. Oedipus was the first play to be fully directed by Grant Malcolm for Grads. It was visceral, dark and utterly splendid. My version of Alkestis was designed to be played as an uncomfortable comedy, a kind of black-hearted sitcom. The idea was probably better than the execution. Lyn Kneen played the title role.

I’ll leave it at this point, with Grant Malcolm now a significant part of Grads and ready to give the Society a new lease of life into the 1990s and beyond…


GRADS 1991-1996

This is the last post on my involvement with Grads from 1980 to 1996, the year I got a life. As we approach the Annual General Meeting, I think the impressive roll-call of people and plays gives us all something to think about, which has been my intention with these posts.

I wish I had more photos and posters for this era. I’m sure there are plenty out there. Anyone?


Grant Malcolm’s remarkable production of Oedipus was followed, in late 1991, by a return to more traditional Grads fare – Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Caroline Thornton at the Dolphin. It was a successful production and featured a spiffy black-and-silver fan-shaped set built by Jonno Beckett.

In June 1992 Grant Malcolm directed Shakespeare’s Loves Labors Lost at the Dolphin. This was a colourful, energetic and youthful production of a play that despite its apparently intimidating verbal linguistics works brilliantly on stage. Later in the year, Noelann Gandon produced a local play, Out to Lunch, at St Paul’s Social Room at UWA.. Maureen Eaton then produced Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at the Dolphin, complete with working trapdoor. It was an ambitious production, and a successful one.

In early 1993 Grant Malcolm revived Anouilh’s Jean of Arc play, The Lark, at the Dolphin, playing it as a kind of meta-theatrical historical pageant. It was followed in March by David Goodall’s production of Shaw’s Major Barbara in the same venue, then in June by Don’s Party directed by Noelann Gandon. The latter was great fun, helped along by free beer on stage courtesy of Fosters (taken in moderation, of course). Later in the year Caroline Thornton directed Sheridan’s School For Scandal. It was a busy year for Grads at the Dolphin. School for Scandal was the last play in which I performed for Grads until my recent return. I played Sir Joseph Surface with a walking stick, having fractured my knee building the set. Some audience members thought my limp lacked realism.

In April 1994 Noelann Gandon directed Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Dolphin. Then, in June, Grant Malcolm directed Shaffer’s Amadeus with a young David Meadows. Noelann Gandon presented another local play, Mother’s Day, at St Paul’s Social Room in September. In September, Jason Seperic directed A Streetcar Named Desire, with David Meadows again - working his way through the classic parts - at the Dolphin. Another busy year.

Grant Malcolm revived the Grads tradition of a summer season in the New Fortune, which had been in abeyance for some years, in early 1995, with his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I didn’t see this production but I’m sure it was splendid. It inaugurated the long-running cycle of summer Shakespeare productions that has only recently ceased.

In March Noelann Gandon directed Pinter’s The Caretaker at the Dolphin. In June David Goodall directed Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. In November Caroline Thornton directed Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera.

In January of 1996, Collin O’Brien of the UWA English Department produced his first show for Grads, The Merchant of Venice, at the New Fortune, with Tim Minchin as his musical director. In March Noelann Gandon directed Williamson’s The Removalists at the Dolphin. This was the last Grads show with which I had any involvement for almost twenty years – I did the poster. Then I married and left the country. And so I will draw the curtain on my association with Grads in the 1980s and 1990s, to a light smattering of applause. House lights up. Thank you.

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