Richard Wherrett AM 1940-2001

Richard Wherrett

Richard Wherrett

Born in Sydney on 10 December 1940, Richard Bruce Wherrett was educated at Trinity Grammar.

At the University of Sydney he dabbled in acting, before graduating in arts in 1961.

Wherrett went to Britain in 1965. There he taught and directed at East 15 Acting School in Loughton, Essex and directed at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, the Lincoln Theatre Royal and Lancaster University.

 

Richard the Lionheart

‘Now, I don’t think Richard is the greatest director I’ve ever worked with,’ said his friend, actor
John Hargreaves, ‘and I don’t think he claims to be Australia’s greatest director. The thing that Richard did was always to create this very relaxed ambience in which you could work very easily. He also cast well, usually. He was a very good casting director. Richard’s productions were always very enjoyable to work in because of that incredibly relaxed ambience, where you felt that you could try anything out … there was no pressure coming from a demented director who had to prove something. I think that quality Richard had is a very, very valuable asset in a director.’

For four decades Richard Wherrett dominated Australian theatre, creating a cavalcade of highly acclaimed productions of drama, opera, film and television; he founded the Sydney Theatre Company, wrote several books and directed notable arts festivals. He was probably the country’s most successful, controversial and outspoken theatrical director.

Born in Sydney on 10 December 1940, Richard Bruce Wherrett was educated at Trinity Grammar. At the University of Sydney he dabbled in acting, before graduating in arts in 1961. After a few lessons from Doris Fitton at the Independent Theatre, he was ready for his professional debut – ironically as a dancer in a ‘live’ transmission of Petrouchka on ABC television. He returned to Trinity where he spent four years as a teacher, and occasional participant in school productions.

Wherrett went to Britain in 1965. There he taught and directed at East 15 Acting School in Loughton, Essex and directed at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, the Lincoln Theatre Royal and Lancaster University. He was back in Australia in 1970. He worked briefly for the ABC in South Australia, then became an assistant on Tyrone Guthrie’s production of King Oedipus for the Old Tote and toured as assistant director on the Tote’s Major Barbara. In September 1970 the Tote appointed him associate director to Robin Lovejoy and artistic director of its affiliated Australian Theatre for Young People. Despite his notable productions of The Man of Mode and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which was televised by the ABC, Wherrett and the Old Tote proved to be incompatible. After directing Bob Ellis’s The Legend of King O’Malley for the South Pacific Arts Festival, Wherrett escaped to London with actress Jacki Weaver. He taught again at East 15.

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Biographical references

Ron Blair: ‘Richard Wherrett’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Tony Watts: John Hargreaves – a Celebration, Parrot Management, 2000
Jacki Weaver: Much Love, Jac, Allen & Unwin, 2005
Richard Wherrett: The Floor of Heaven, Sceptre, 2000