Irene Mitchell MBE 1905-1995

Irene Mitchell

Irene Mitchell

In 1986 Irene Mitchell received The Green Room Awards Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Irene Mitchell died on 7 July 1995. Her ashes were scattered at St Martin’s, beneath the ancient peppercorn tree that she loved.

 

By then the Little Theatre had outgrown the humble confines of St Chad’s. The tiny church was demolished and replaced with a handsome 400-seat theatre, built with money donated by patrons and performers. The new Little Theatre opened in August 1956 with Jean Giraudoux’s Tiger at the Gates, a splendid production by Irene Mitchell, who was from then on the company’s artistic director and part of a management team that included Peter Randall (Brett’s son) and George Fairfax. The theatre was renamed St Martin’s in 1962 and company became fully professional. With a strong subscriber base and Mitchell at the helm, St Martin’s flourished. For her services to theatre, she was made a Member of the British Empire in 1975.

By the early 1970s St Martin’s was losing audiences to subsidised theatres such as the MTC, the Australian Performing Group and La Mama. The company ceased production in 1973. The MTC used the theatre until 1977 when, at Mitchell’s suggestion and with the support of the Randall family, it was sold to the Victorian Government to become St Martin’s Youth Arts Centre. A second performance space was added and in 1990 this was renamed ‘The Irene Mitchell Studio’. In its regenerated form St Martin’s has nurtured a new generation of talent, including Jane Turner, Gina Riley, Catherine McClements, Mark Trevorrow, Barrie Kosky, Noah Taylor, Ben Mendelsohn and Dan Spielman – just as Mitchell intended.

In 1986 Irene Mitchell received The Green Room Awards Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In her last years she led the team of volunteers helping identify, sort and file the vast collection of theatrical ephemera that was flooding in to the Victorian Arts Centre’s newly-established Performing Arts Collection. This houses the extensive St Martin’s archives as well as Mitchell’s own personal memorabilia – rich resources documenting 60 years of theatrical activity.

Irene Mitchell died on 7 July 1995. Her ashes were scattered at St Martin’s, beneath the ancient peppercorn tree that she loved. A memorial plaque marks the spot. In her memory the Victorian College of the Arts offers an annual Irene Mitchell Scholarship for a Third Year Drama Student, recognising his or her study achievements in Second Year.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Sally Dawes: ‘Irene Mitchell’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Sally Dawes and Ross Thorne: ‘St Martin’s Theatre Company’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
George Fairfax: ‘Creative lifetime of loving influence’, The Age, 24 July 1995
Programme: An Aboriginal Moomba – Out of the Dark, Princess Theatre, 1951
Frank Van Straten: ‘Irene Mitchell – Master Builder’, in Stages, November-December 1994