Vale Malcolm Robertson

16 March 1933 – 1 January 2016

Arts Centre Melbourne was saddened to learn of the death of esteemed actor, director, stage manager and arts administrator Malcolm Robertson on New Year’s Day. Malcolm made an outstanding contribution to Australian theatre having been involved with over 100 stage productions, as well as numerous film and television projects.

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Malcolm Robertson as Benny Wallis in John Collins’ Benny Wallis Meets His Maker, VAC 1988. Photograph: Luzio Grossi

His career began in Sydney in 1951 with the John Alden Shakespeare Company, before relocating to Melbourne to join the newly-formed Union Theatre Repertory Company (UTRC), now Melbourne Theatre Company. His early years with the company included performing in a regional touring production of Twelfth Night in 1955 alongside Barry Humphries, Zoe Caldwell and Ray Lawler. He also played the role of Johnny Dowd in the 1958–59 Australian tour of The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

A strong supporter of independent theatre, Malcolm was actively involved in La Mama since its inception in 1967, as an actor, director and board member. His association with Playbox Theatre (now Malthouse Theatre) began in 1977 and included eleven years as the company’s literary manager. His performances for Playbox in the solo shows Judgement (1980) and St Mark’s Gospel (1982) were particularly acclaimed.

Malcolm’s encouragement of original local work contributed much to the Australian stage.  During the 1970s while leading drama workshops at Parramatta Gaol, he read inmate Jim McNeil’s play The Chocolate Frog and subsequently directed the first professional production.  Other plays by McNeil were also staged by Stable Productions, which Malcolm established with Carrillo Gantner in 1972.

Throughout his career Malcolm generously shared his knowledge and craft by mentoring young and aspiring actors, playwrights and directors. He founded Melbourne Theatre Company’s Saturday Morning Club and was the first director of the education program, directing Theatre in Education and Young Elizabethan Players. He also directed plays with the School of Drama at the Victorian College of the Arts and taught drama at the Australian Ballet School.

His legacy continues as the Malcolm Robertson New Playwright Award was established in 2000 and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation was set up to foster young playwrights in 2005. Malcolm was recognised for this dedication and services to the arts in 2001 receiving the Kenneth Myer Medallion for the Performing Arts.

Malcolm donated material related to his career to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection in 2000 and shared his passion and enthusiasm for Australian theatre history with the Collections team.

Malcolm will be greatly missed by the Melbourne Theatre and Arts community and our sincerest condolences go to his family.

A celebration of Malcolm’s life will be held in the Merlyn Theatre at the Malthouse at 4pm on Monday 1 February. All welcome.

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Portrait of Malcolm Robertson c.1975

Published by

Performing Arts Collection

Arts Centre Melbourne's Performing Arts Collection is the national leader among specialist performing arts collections in Australia. Established in 1975, it is formally recognised as a State collection and encompasses the history of circus, dance, music, opera and theatre. The Collection features over 640,000 items including costumes, designs, photographs, set models, puppets, props, posters, programs and archives.

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