Robin Lovejoy OBE 1923-1985

Robin Lovejoy

Robin Lovejoy

Back in 1962 Lovejoy had been instrumental in the establishment of the Old Tote Theatre Company, a joint initiative of the University of New South Wales and the National Institute of Dramatic Art.

In 1974 Lovejoy’s services to the theatre were recognised by an OBE

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Back in 1962 Lovejoy had been instrumental in the establishment of the Old Tote Theatre Company, a joint initiative of the University of New South Wales and the National Institute of Dramatic Art. In 1965, when the Tote’s director, Robert Quentin, resigned, Lovejoy and Tom Brown became co-directors; Lovejoy was sole director from 1969. In 1966, the original Old Tote Theatre, a converted army hut on the university campus, was supplemented by the Jane Street Theatre, a recycled church hall, seating fewer than 100. Here Lovejoy staged a remarkable season of Australian plays, including his reworking of Edward Geoghegan’s 1844 ballad opera The Currency Lass.

Lovejoy moulded and developed the Old Tote with skill, care, and tireless dedication. He masterminded its growth from tin-shed infancy to adulthood and maturity. Writing in the magazine Masque in 1967, Denis O’Brien said, ‘The Old Tote provides the sole support of anyone with a passion for good theatre in Sydney. Lovejoy consistently produces the best professional drama in Australia. Many an experienced “pro” has been “rediscovered” on the Old Tote stage: the place rarely lets a good actor down. It doesn’t pay magnanimously, but it does offer theatrical dignity often lost working in too many TV commercials. More satisfying for the patron, though, is the stream of talented youngsters being carefully brought forward to centre stage. Some of them give the Australian theatre a promise of vitality which I sometimes despair of seeing.’

In 1969 the Old Tote separated from NIDA and became the official state drama company of New South Wales. The following year the company moved into the Parade Theatre, another conversion, in the university grounds at Kensington. Among Lovejoy’s most acclaimed productions at this time was The Taming of the Shrew; hailed as displaying, for the first time, a truly Australian approach to Shakespeare, it was televised by the ABC.

In October, 1973, the Old Tote took up residence in the Drama Theatre of the newly-completed Sydney Opera House. Lovejoy’s inaugural production there, Richard II, was condemned by critics, but his second, the premiere of David Williamson’s What If You Died Tomorrow? fared better. It also played the Comedy in Melbourne, and in the West End – the first complete Australian production seen in Britain since Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1957. In 1974 Lovejoy’s services to the theatre were recognised by an OBE, and he was persuaded by Paul Cox to take a featured role in My First Wife; it was his only screen appearance. That same year Lovejoy survived an Old Tote ‘palace revolution’, but he resigned soon after. The Old Tote finally collapsed in 1978.

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Biographical references

John Clark: ‘Robin Lovejoy’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Ruth Cracknell: A Biased Memoir, Penguin Books, 1997
Frank Van Straten: ‘Robin Lovejoy – master builder’, in Stages, September-October 1993