Behind the Scenes of Camelot

Eric Richards with a mechanical horse used in 'Camelot', 1963
Eric Richards with a mechanical horse used in 'Camelot', 1963. Photographer unknown.

A new acquisition by the Performing Arts Collection at Arts Centre Melbourne sheds light on the work of Eric Richards and the art of theatrical prop making.

A highlight of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection is a life-sized, mechanised horse designed by John Truscott for the J.C. Williamson (JCW) 1963 production of Camelot. The horse was acquired by the Performing Arts Collection in 1996 and provides the Collection’s most tangible link with a production once billed as ‘the most spectacular musical comedy ever staged in Australia.’

This treasured connection with Camelot was strengthened early in 2011 when material representing the career of JCW Property Master, Eric Richards, was donated to the Performing Arts Collection by his niece, Liz Coady. The scrap book, loose photographs, correspondence and programmes that make up this collection provide rare insight into the highly-skilled processes that go on behind the scenes of large scale theatre productions.

In his role as Property Master, Richards oversaw the design and realization of theatrical props for well-known productions by the Tivoli Theatre and J.C. Williamson Ltd from the 1930s through to the 1960s. For Camelot, Richards was faced with the difficult task of creating medieval armoury for the knights and their horses. His masterful use of papier-mâché techniques and detailed paintwork helped make Truscott’s grand vision for Camelot a reality. In fact a handwritten note from Truscott assured Richards that ‘Camelot could not possibly have looked as beautiful as they say if it hadn’t been for you’.

Photographs in the Eric Richards collection provide a deeper understanding of the Camelot horse and the intricate level of detail associated with this production. The candid nature of the photographs also reflects the sense of fun and camaraderie shared by JCW production staff as they worked together to create another memorable moment in Australian Performing Arts history.