Rex Cramphorn 1941-1991

Rex Cramphorn

Rex Cramphorn

Rex Cramphorne – he dropped the final ‘e’ around 1972 when he decided it was a family
affectation – was born in Brisbane on 10 January 1941

In 1969 he created the Performance Syndicate, an experimental workshop group taking its inspiration from the theories of Peter Brook and the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski.

 

Rough magic

Rex Cramphorne – he dropped the final ‘e’ around 1972 when he decided it was a family
affectation – was born in Brisbane on 10 January 1941. ‘The fact that Rex came from Brisbane is in some ways quite important,’ said his fellow Queenslander David Malouf. ‘People in Brisbane grew up in a very strange way… everybody grew up in their own little world. [Brisbane] produced people who had very idiosyncratic ways of doing and thinking about things … Rex was one of those people who came out of Brisbane, already at twenty-one, fixed in the kind of world which was going to be his for the rest of his life, and that was very much a world of things French.’

Educated at Brisbane Boys’ High School, Cramphorn held a BA Hons in French and English studies from the University of Queensland – where he began working in theatre: there, with his own group, he produced such plays as The Changeling and Suddenly Last Summer. After he graduated he taught for a year, and then, in 1965, he undertook the two-year production course at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, at the same time contributing drama reviews to The Bulletin.

Cramphorn designed the costumes for Aarne Neeme and Philip Parsons’ production of Richard III at the University of Western Australia’s New Fortune Theatre for the 1968 Festival of Perth. His first professional productions were lunch-time seasons for the Q Theatre at the AMP Theatrette in Sydney: Carlino’s Snow Angel in 1969 and David Mercer’s The Governor’s Lady in 1970.

In 1969 he created the Performance Syndicate, an experimental workshop group taking its inspiration from the theories of Peter Brook and the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski. Its members were mainly recent NIDA graduates, and they used NIDA as a rehearsal venue. The group lasted until 1975. Its continually changing ranks included Gillian Jones, William Yang (then known as Willy Young), Nick Lathouris, Kate Fitzpatrick and Robyn Nevin. In 1970 the Performance Syndicate’s memorable productions included Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy for the Hobart Theatre Royal and, at NIDA’s Jane Street Theatre, William Yang’s 10,000 Miles Away and The Legend of King O’Malley. The latter was an enormously successful rumbustious song-and-dance melange by Michael Boddy and Bob Ellis, directed by John Bell. It toured widely.

Media Gallery

Photograph courtesy National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA)

Biographical references

Katharine Brisbane: ‘Rex Cramphorn’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Katharine Brisbane: ‘The Performance Sydnicate’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency Press, 1995