Peter Scriven MBE 1930-1998

Peter Scriven

Peter Scriven

After a spell in Singapore and Malaysia, Scriven returned to Sydney in 1973 as puppetry
consultant to the Australian Council for the Arts.

Peter Scriven’s services to theatre were acknowledged with an MBE in 1970.

On 13 October 1998, he was found dead in a boarding house in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.

 

After a spell in Singapore and Malaysia, Scriven returned to Sydney in 1973 as puppetry
consultant to the Australian Council for the Arts. In late 1974 Scriven put together a new version of The Tintookies. Utilising around 100 near life-size marionettes, this was the biggest puppet production ever undertaken in Australia. It premiered at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne on 8 January 1975 and toured Asia in early 1976.

Scriven’s next home was Sri Lanka. He commissioned local puppeteers to make the marionettes for The Tintookie Man, a small-scale show that he presented on an independent tour of Australian schools in 1976-7. When he left to live in the Philippines, the show was continued by Graeme Mathieson, an accomplished puppeteer with whom Scriven had worked at the MTA.

In 1974 Richard Bradshaw succeeded Scriven as artistic director of the Marionette Theatre of Australia. It became an autonomous body in 1979 and from 1983 had its own theatre in the Rocks. It closed in 1988.

Peter Scriven’s services to theatre were acknowledged with an MBE in 1970. He spent his last years living in increasingly reduced circumstances in Manila, finally subsisting on just $5 a day. He worked on a play and an autobiography, but neither has been published. In 1998, diagnosed with a brain tumour, Scriven returned to Australia. He had been here just three weeks when, on 13 October 1998, he was found dead in a boarding house in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. The man whose artistry had entertained countless thousands of Australian youngsters and had inspired a new generation of professional puppeteers had just $1.50 in his pocket. He was survived by many of his Tintookie marionettes, which now live in the archives of the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney.

Scriven’s enthusiasm and expertise had legitimised Australian puppetry, transforming it from a children’s party distraction into a major performing art form that attracts wide audiences and government funding and is taught in performing arts schools.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Richard Bradshaw: ‘The Marionette Theatre of Australia’, ‘Puppetry’, ‘Peter Scriven’ and ‘The Tintookies’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Jenny Gould: ‘Tintookies’ creator set puppet style’, in The Australian, 21 October 1998
Norman Hetherington: Puppets of Australia, Australian Council for the Arts, 1974
Peter Scriven: The Tintookies and Little Fella Bindi, Lansdowne Press, 1966
Maeve Vella and Helen Rickards: Theatre of the Impossible – Puppet Theatre in Australia, Craftsman House, 1989
Obituary, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 1998