Robert Helpmann: A Servant of Art
UQP, $49.95 hb, 403 pp
PANACHE. Both in its literal meaning (a plume of feathers) and its more familiar extended one, the term might have been invented for stage critic extraordinaire Kenneth Tynan as plausibly as for Robert Helpmann, one of last century’s most flamboyant and versatile stage practitioners. The illegitimate Tynan’s middle name was Peacock (the surname of his Birmingham father). Helpmann (born plain Robert Murray Helpman – one ‘n’ – in Mount Gambier, South Australia) will always be associated with the lyrebird, nominal subject and central symbol of perhaps his most original creative achievement, The Display, the dance-drama he choreographed for the Australian Ballet in 1964. In looks, each was very striking – and strikingly alike, though Helpmann was eighteen years older than Tynan, and their common resemblance (below as well as above the neck) was more to some exotic, sinuous reptile than to any species of bird.