Frank Thring 1926-1994

Frank Thring

Frank Thring

He made his British debut at the out-of-town Q Theatre at Chiswick in 1954 in Salome and Mordant Shairp’s controversial drama The Green Bay Tree.

Kirk Douglas saw one of Thring’s Titus performances and suggested he try Hollywood.

Thring appeared frequently with the UTRC and its successor, the Melbourne Theatre Company

.

Later that year, with financial backing from his mother, Thring took over the Middle Park Repertory Theatre. He renamed it The Arrow and launched it with a sensational production of Wilde’s Salome, followed by Fry’s A Phoenix Too Frequent, directed by Irene Mitchell. His Arrow repertoire encompassed everything from Shakespeare to melodrama, and even included a local play, Ralph Peterson’s The Square Ring, which transferred to the Princess. The Arrow suffered when the Union Theatre Repertory Company was established, and many of Thring’s actors, such as Bunney Brooke and Zoe Caldwell, found professional work there. Thring went to London.

He made his British debut at the out-of-town Q Theatre at Chiswick in 1954 in Salome and Mordant Shairp’s controversial drama The Green Bay Tree. Salome was sufficiently well received to deserve a 22-performance transfer to St Martin’s Theatre in the West End, where it was presented in a double-bill with Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Respectable Prostitute. Thring designed the costumes for both productions.

At Christmas 1955 Thring played a rascally Captain Hook in Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre. In the following year he played Sir Lancelot Spratt in Doctor in the House, which had a 240-performance run at the Victoria Palace. He was Saturninus in Peter Brook’s ‘bone crunching’ Royal Shakespeare Theatre production of Titus Andronicus with Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Anthony Quayle. During the run Thring married Australian-born Joan Cuncliffe in a fairy tale ceremony at Stratford-upon-Avon. Vivien Leigh was matron-of-honour. A 1957 transfer to the West End was the final attraction at the Stoll Theatre. 

Kirk Douglas saw one of Thring’s Titus performances and suggested he try Hollywood. He made his film debut in 1958 alongside Douglas, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh in The Vikings. His ‘height and bulk, his flat, round face, his sinister, sleepy eyes and the air of authority in his smooth voice’ immediately established him as the archetypal costume drama villain. He was unsurpassed as Pontius Pilate in Ben-Hur (1959), Herod Antipas in King of Kings (1961) and the devious Al Kadir in El Cid (1961).

Thring could have stayed overseas, lucratively exploiting his film persona, but instead he chose to return to Melbourne, where he joined the Union Theatre Repertory Company. ‘He was generous,’ recalled director John Sumner, ‘charging us only a fraction of what his international fame deserved, accepting the growth and success of the company as the major part of his salary.’ Thring made his UTRC debut in 1959, playing Sergius in Shaw’s Arms and the Man, but it was as the wildly ranting Ahab in Orson Welles’s Moby Dick – Rehearsed that he really established himself as a consummate actor. Through the following three decades Thring appeared frequently with the UTRC and its successor, the Melbourne Theatre Company. His credits there included The Happy Invalid (1962), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1963, 1980), The Homecoming (1965), Present Laughter (1965), Rhinoceros (1967), Falstaff in Henry I, Part 1 (1969), All’s Well That End Well (1970), An Ideal Husband (1972), The Nuns (1976), Brecht’s Galileo (1977) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1988). In 1981 Thring presented his own one-man show, Frankly Thring, at the Russell Street Theatre.

Media Gallery

Cartoon of Frank Thring

Biographical references

Sally Dawes: ‘Frank Thring’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
A Tribute to Frank, booklet published for the celebration of Thring’s memory, Victorian Arts Centre Playhouse, 5 March 1995