The Ripples Before the (New) Wave: SUDS, Players and the College Dramatic Societies at the University of Sydney, 1957-61

Laura Ginters

Abstract


“The years between about 1957 and 1963 have gone down in folklore as a sort of golden age at Sydney University: an outpouring of creative talent unmatched since the Athens of Pericles or the Florence of the Medicis. Even I, as one who was there, am prepared to admit that this is probably something of an exaggeration.” – Mungo MacCallum

For all Mungo MacCallum’s self-deprecation, it has been widely acknowledged that this period saw an extraordinary blossoming of artistic activity, and the beginning of many brilliant careers. At this time, the Sydney University Dramatic Society the Sydney University Players were a powerhouse in Sydney theatre. College groups, university departments, and the annual University Revues contributed to this very lively scene, and played a significant role in the otherwise rather barren theatrical landscape of Sydney in the late 1950s-early ‘60s. SUDS and Players were often at the cutting edge of contemporary theatre, delivering the Australian premieres of radical new plays from Europe, and regularly being reviewed in the mainstream Sydney press. A striking number of participants – John Bell, Clive James, Bruce Beresford, Leo Schofield, Robert Hughes and Germaine Greer – went on to have high profile careers. The “New Wave” in Australian theatre from the late 1960s can be directly traced back to the activities of those prominent in SUDS and Players a decade earlier: John Bell, Richard Wherrett and Ken Horler founded the Nimrod Theatre, for example. The “New Wave” has been extensively researched, but almost no attention has been paid to this earlier, foundational period at the University of Sydney: it is as though – as erroneously often claimed – Australian theatre only really “began” in the late 1960s.

Dr Laura Ginters teaches in the Department of Performance Studies. Robyn Dalton is retired and works on this project as research associate.