The Many Facets of Anne Fraser

Helmut Newton, Portrait of Anne Fraser, c. 1950 Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Helmut Newton, Portrait of Anne Fraser, c. 1950
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Anne Fraser (1928 – 2005) was born in New Zealand and came to Australia at an early age. She began her career as an advertising designer before working with the National Theatre in Melbourne. In 1955 she became the first full-time designer for the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC). In this role she designed the original 1956 production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and its subsequent London and New York seasons.

After leaving the MTC, Fraser worked for a short time for the South Australian Theatre Company in the late 1960s, before being invited to become Head of Design at the Old Tote Theatre Company in Sydney in 1971. She worked with the company for six years, spending a year in Europe and the United States during this time.

In 1977 Fraser began working as a freelance designer. She again designed many productions for the MTC, including The Doll Trilogy (1977), Ring round the Moon (1977), Electra (1978), The Man who came to dinner (1980), Amadeus (1981) and The Real Thing (1984).

Costume design from the 1981 Melbourne Theatre Company production at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne. Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Costume design from the 1981 Melbourne Theatre Company production of Amadeus at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne.
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Costume design by Anne Fraser for the 1981 Melbourne Theatre Co. production of Pete McGynty and the Dreamtime at the Athenaeum Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Costume design by Anne Fraser for the 1981 Melbourne Theatre Co. production of Pete McGynty and the Dreamtime at the Athenaeum
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Fraser also designed for ballet and opera companies. Her work for the Victoria State Opera includes productions of The Return of Ulysses (1980), Die Fledermaus (1981), Eugene Onegin (1983), La Traviata (1992) and set designs for My Fair Lady (1988). In 1985 Fraser worked on Capriccio andCountess Maritza for the State Opera of South Australia. For The Australian Ballet she designed the productions of La Sylphide (1985) and Don Quixote (1993).

Preliminary sketch for set design created by Anne Fraser for the Australian Ballet production "Don Quixote" first performed at Arts Centre Melbourne, 1993 Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Preliminary sketch for set design created by Anne Fraser for the Australian Ballet production “Don Quixote” first performed at Arts Centre Melbourne, 1993
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Set design for Swan Lake, Borovansky Ballet, 1957 Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Set design for Swan Lake, Borovansky Ballet, 1957
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Fraser won several Green Room Awards for her designs throughout her career and in 1993 was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to the arts as a theatre set and costume designer. Anne Fraser passed away in Melbourne on 20 October 2005.

Collection Holdings

In 1996 Anne Fraser donated material relating to her career as set and costume designer. The Performing Arts Collection now holds over 2,000 objects in the Anne Fraser collection. Her extensive collection ranges from miniature dolls that a young Fraser created of favourite stage and screen performers whilst a student, to letters, contracts, catalogues, programmes and many hundreds of set and costume designs. After her death in 2005, an additional 146 designs, including working / preliminary drawings for various productions, were donated to the performing arts collection on her behalf by Blair Edgar.

Miniature doll of Renee Asherson as 'Katharine' in "Henry V" made by Anne Fraser c.1940  Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996  Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne  As a commercial art student at the Melbourne Technical College, Anne made miniature dolls of her favourite theatrical performers. She said she would be so impressed by their performances that she "just had to do something about it".
Miniature doll of Renee Asherson as ‘Katharine’ in “Henry V” made by Anne Fraser c.1940
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
As a commercial art student at the Melbourne Technical College, Anne made miniature dolls of her favourite theatrical performers. She said she would be so impressed by their performances that she “just had to do something about it”.
Early design by Anne Fraser as a student Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Early design by Anne Fraser as a student
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

The collection reflects the designer’s work with many of Australia’s performing arts companies including The Australian National Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, The Australian Opera, The Victoria State Opera, The State Opera of South Australia, Playbox Theatre Company, The Australian Ballet and the Old Tote Theatre Company.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Set model for 'Summer of the Seventeenth Doll', Melbourne Theatre Company, 1995. Designed by Tony Tripp.

Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll holds a special place in the hearts of Australian theatre-goers. In fact, when a new production premiered this week at Arts Centre Melbourne, The Age described how:

‘Four generations of eyes lit up at the opening night of the Doll; the excitement was palpable. Ray Lawler’s great Australian play is as relevant today as when it was written.’

The now legendary success enjoyed by ‘The Doll’ since its modest premiere at the Union Theatre in Melbourne in 1955 was unexpected by both playwright Ray Lawler and director John Sumner. At a time when British and American plays filled company repertoires and Australian actors undertook voice training to relieve them of their terrible Australian ‘accents’, here was a play about ordinary Australians written and spoken in the Australian idiom which moved audiences internationally (by way of a successful London season in 1957 and Hollywood film adaptation in 1959) with its melancholy story of love, youth and opportunity lost.

Since the 1950s, the Doll has continued to be studied and performed around the country and the Performing Arts Collection has continued to collect material that reflects the play’s changing interpretations. The Collection now includes Anne Fraser’s evocative designs for ‘The Doll Trilogy’ (Melbourne Theatre Company, 1977);

Costume design for Olive, 'The Doll Trilogy', Melbourne Theatre Company, 1977. Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996.

Costumes and props from the Melbourne Theatre Company’s 1995 production…

Prop kewpie doll, 'Summer of the Seventeenth Doll', Melbourne Theatre Company, 1995. Gift of Melbourne Theatre Company, 1995.

along with set models, lobby cards and programmes many of which are now available for viewing on our online catalogue.