Theatregoers with long memories may well hug to themselves the ‘golden years’ of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s tenancy of the Russell Street Theatre in the 1960s, a time in which plays as varied as Hochhuth’s The Representative, Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s infallible matinee version of Henry James’s The Heiress, and many others jostled for attention. It was the time when an actor called Clive Winmill stepped on stage in the swinging London comedy The Knack and, instead of saying his lines, treated the audience to a passionate anti-Vietnam involvement speech. It was a time when the provocative new and the venerated classic made equal claims on a theatrical ensemble which achieved real importance in Melbourne’s cultural life.
One of the most illustrious names (among many such) associated with this period was that of George Ogilvie, director of some of its greatest successes. For him it offered two of the elements he most cherished in his career: an intimate space and what he, quoting Jerzy Grotowski, called ‘poor theatre’. As one reads his memoir, it becomes clear that he was always drawn to the idea of a theatre that grew out of a sense of family, of interdependence, rather than the (to some) irresistible glitter of the big commercial stages.