Rex Cramphorn 1941-1991

Rex Cramphorn

Rex Cramphorn

For the 1988 Adelaide Festival Cramphorn directed his fourth and possibly most controversial Measure for Measure, which integrated live action with filmed segments.

AIDS. His final theatre work involved cross-gender casting in The Tempest and Molière’s Don Juan, which he directed for the Centre for Performance Studies at the University of Sydney in 1991.

He died that year, on 22 November, from an AIDS-related illness. He was 50.

 

For the 1988 Adelaide Festival Cramphorn directed his fourth and possibly most controversial Measure for Measure, which integrated live action with filmed segments. The Sydney Morning Herald critic Bob Evans hated it: ‘Rex Cramphorn has finally succeeded in doing Measure for Measure to death. [His] production is one of the scrappiest, doggedest massacres of Shakespeare I have ever seen. For all the theorising and technological wizardry, Cramphorn delivers a lifeless production where the austerity is not measured by the vitality and humour of the play… And through it all the audience shuffled and coughed and occasionally tittered. The wiser and more fortunate were able to leave at interval.’

The show’s production manager, Ruth E.E. Aldridge, leapt to Cramphorn’s defence, holding Evans personally responsible for the box-office failure of the subsequent Sydney season: ‘Your venom has cost us around $40,000. It is people like you who make live theatre today the disappointing experience it often is. Who is going to take risks, when every time they do, there is a predator like you, waiting to shoot down their every effort?’

But by then Cramphorn was facing another predator: AIDS. His final theatre work involved cross-gender casting in The Tempest and Molière’s Don Juan, which he directed for the Centre for Performance Studies at the University of Sydney in 1991. He died that year, on 22 November, from an AIDS-related illness. He was 50.

Perhaps to redress its earlier criticism, The Sydney Morning Herald said: ‘With [his] death the Australian theatre has lost one of its most challenging and sensitive talents. Those who worked with him in the Performance Syndicate, in A Shakespeare Company and in Melbourne count him as a formative influence. His range of remembered productions was wide. But if he had one quality that stood out it was his capacity to take a play and turn it into an object of contemplation, to penetrate its mystery so that it stayed in the mind long after the image faded.’

The New South Wales Government has established the biennial $15,000 Rex Cramphorn Theatre Scholarship to assist a professional theatre artist in career development. A studio at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Performance Studies has been named in Cramphorn’s honour, and he is commemorated in an annual lecture by an outstanding theatre practitioner. The first was delivered by Jim Sharman.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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