Richard Wherrett AM 1940-2001

Richard Wherrett

Richard Wherrett

At the end of 1972 Wherrett returned to Australia. He joined the innovative Nimrod Theatre in
Kings Cross, where he directed a widely acclaimed production of Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

He became Nimrod’s co-artistic director in 1974.

Wherrett also directed at NIDA, perhaps most notably a Romeo and Juliet in 1976, with Mel Gibson and Judy Davis in the leads.

 

At the end of 1972 Wherrett returned to Australia. He joined the innovative Nimrod Theatre in
Kings Cross, where he directed a widely acclaimed production of Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. He became Nimrod’s co-artistic director in 1974, the year it moved into larger premises – a converted salt factory in Belvoir Street, Surry Hills. At the Nimrod Wherrett introduced the work of many local playwrights, Alex Buzo, Alma de Groen, David Allen, Ron Blair, Tim Gooding and Steve J. Spears among them. Wherrett’s greatest Nimrod success was Spears’ The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin, a solo tour-de-force for Gordon Chater. It opened at the tiny Nimrod Downstairs on 28 August 1976 and went on to tour widely, including seasons in London and New York, where its title was judiciously shortened to The Elocution of Benjamin. It won prestigious Off-Broadway OBIE awards for Wherrett, Spears and Chater. In 1977 Wherrett directed another Spears play, Young Mo, an affectionate tribute to the revered comedian Roy Rene, played by Garry McDonald. Martin Sharp designed the show’s striking Kabuki-style poster, which became Nimrod’s logo. In 1998 Wherrett presented Sharp’s original painting to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

Wherrett also directed at NIDA, perhaps most notably a Romeo and Juliet in 1976, with Mel Gibson and Judy Davis in the leads.

By 1978 the Old Tote had run out of steam – and money – and despite its residency at the Sydney Opera House, had ceased to be the city’s leading drama company. In 1979 the Wran government created the Sydney Theatre Company, and Wherrett was appointed its first artistic director. He launched the new company on 1 January 1980 with his rollicking production of George Darrell’s spectacular 1883 melodrama The Sunny South. The Sydney Theatre Company was an immediate success. In 1981 Wherrett boldly decided the STC should stage a musical. He chose wisely. Chicago, with a cast headed by Nancye Hayes and Geraldine Turner, was so successful it transferred to the Theatre Royal, and went on to play in Melbourne, Adelaide and Hong Kong.

Away from the STC, Wherrett extended his directorial expertise with two short films – The Girl Who Met Simone de Beauvoir in Paris and The Applicant – in 1981, and an ABC television musical, The Girl from Moonooloo, with Jacki Weaver, in 1982. That same year he directed Kurt Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny for the Australian Opera.

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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