New Fortune Theatre 50 and Fabulous

Aarne Neme for NFT 50thThe Second New Fortune Lecture-Performance was delivered on 14th November 2014, the year of the Theatre’s 50th Anniversary, by acclaimed director Aarne Neeme at The University of Western Australia.

On the occasion, the much-loved, open-air New Fortune Theatre, greeted up to 200 guests, many of them UWA alumni, to witness a milestone for a theatre that has made history in its own right in the last fifty years.

Aarne Neeme unlocked some of this past as he delivered a narration based on his own remarkable productions. His lecture was accompanied by Shakespearean performances to illustrate many of his observations. It ended with a first-ever performance of a scene from a play written by Dorothy Hewett but never published or performed before this night, The Knight of the Long Knives.

Organised by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE) and supported by the UWA Dean of Arts and the Director of the Cultural Precinct, the Lecture-Performances have drawn local and international attention to this rare reconstruction of the original Fortune Playhouse (London, c.1600) and its suitability for reproducing all kinds of drama, including Shakespeare’s plays.

CHE Chief Investigator and UWA English Professor, Robert White, would like to see the New Fortune Theatre’s rich history celebrated, its ‘golden age’ of vigorous performances in the 1970s and ‘80s brought back to life, and the stage restored to its former grandeur.

“In this year, 2014, we have a double celebration – not only is it the New Fortune’s 50th Anniversary but it also Shakespeare’s 450th birthday following his birth in 1564, and we want to pay homage to these very important dates in history,” he said.

During the Lecture-Performance Mr Neeme reflected fondly on the theatre’s earlier days, describing the New Fortune Theatre as like an artist’s palette for Elizabethan stagecraft.

“I was so excited about gaining insights into its structure, I thought about the intended visual effects of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as how the use of its space would illuminate his intentions, so I was delighted to work on staging productions here,” he said.

He spoke of his initial visit when he met the ‘grande dame of Australian literature’, poet and playwright Dorothy Hewett.

“Dorothy had an office overlooking the New Fortune and was likewise fascinated by its possibilities. Over the course of time I had the honour of directing four of her plays here, most notably The Chapel Perilous (1971).   
“Tonight I am privileged to relive my first experience at the New Fortune Theatre in the summer of 1967/8, when Rex Cramphorn and I accompanied Philip Parsons as assistants on his Festival of Perth production of Richard III.

“I was completely smitten with the New Fortune’s vast open playing area and its stadium-like actor-audience relationship,” he said.
The New Fortune Theatre was opened on 29 January 1964 with Jeana Bradley’s production of Hamlet for which Sir Laurence Olivier and other celebrities sent congratulatory telegrams. The Inaugural New Fortune Lecture-Performance was delivered by director John Bell in 2012.

Image Caption: Director Aarne Neeme at the New Fortune Theatre celebrating its 50th Anniversary with a Lecture-Performance.