History of the Emerald Hill Theatre Company

By Patricia Convery

The Emerald Hill Theatre Company was a professional dramatic company founded in 1961 by Wal Cherry and George Whaley.

Emerald Hill Theatre was an important precursor to the 'New Wave' of Australian theatre that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. It was an important experiment in the development of Australian theatre, particularly in Melbourne.

The company was almost entirely self-funded and established when the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, the only public funding body for theatre, supported only major regional companies.

It was located at 250 Dorcas St, South Melbourne, in a former church and converted to theatrical use by the architect Robin Boyd. It had a thrust stage, a revolve and tiered seating for 150.

The staging was simple, the acting vigorous. It aimed to challenge assumptions, express complex ideas and encourage debate in an accessible and public forum.

It was an actor’s theatre dedicated to ensemble performance and drew heavily on the dramatic theories of Bertolt Brecht and Konstantin Stanislavsky, theories which informed the ensemble’s working methods. The provocative productions and new plays often divided and occasionally baffled critical opinion.

The company's distinctive, high-quality stage productions included significant modern (and classical) European, American and English plays, plays by Sophocles, Moliere, John Anouilh, Eugene, Ionesco, Harold  Pinter, John Osborne, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. As well, Australian plays, landmarks such as A Bunch of Ratbags, The Last of the Rainbow and Where The Gravediggers Come were produced. Emerald Hill’s first production was an Australian play, “Not with Yours Truly’ by Bill Hannan, March 1962.

Actors included John Derum, Terence Donovan, Gerda Nicholson and Peter O’Shaughnessy, all luminaries of the Australian theatrical scene.

After thirty one productions and programs of dance, folk music, poetry and vaudeville, Emerald Hill closed in 1966.

The Emerald Hill Theatre site now houses a commercial business.


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