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A Short History of the Old Nick Company

“Old Nick derived its original energy from the frustrations and the newly found joys of the ex-service men who formed the focus, the drive, the stories and the ditties from which it all arose.”
– Bill Howroyd, 1948 Cast Member

“It wasn’t the sort of thing mothers wanted their daughters to take part in those days – so someone had to wear the heels and do the dancing.”
– Bob O’Conor, 1948 Cast Member

“We were all little devils. The central character was Old Nick.”
– Gwenda Webb, 1948 Cast Member

“The curtain went up in pitch darkness and I’m down front… in my cat suit and horns … and the stage hands let off flash powder… overdid the damn flash powder… it singed my eyebrows.”
– Chick Chen, 1948 Cast Member

Old Nick was created in unison with the first of its uni revues, Smokin’ Hot, smoki-hot-1948-programin 1948, in an attempt to harness the student exuberance which had seen the annual Commemoration Days of several previous years degenerate into public chaos. The Student Representative Council (SRC) had previously approached the Professorial Board with a request to stage a revue but had been denied, but the Board relented after “Commem parades” associated with the annual degree presentation ceremonies brought public condemnation because of student behaviour.

the-devilTo demonstrate that a student revue would be tasteful and would not cause further public outrage, a professional director and producer, Keith Jarvis, was approached to take on the task. Keith directed the first twelve revues before students took on the production side of the Company as well as the committee and performing duties. The name Old Nick Company satirised the highly memorable Australian tour by the Old Vic Company starring Laurence Olivier and Vivienne Leigh, with luminaries such as Peter Cushing in the ensemble. The devil was adopted as the logo, as “Old Nick” has for centuries been a colloquial reference to Satan.

While the company was originally based on campus, with limited and primitive office and wardrobe facilities, it has grown to the point that it now operates out of an extensive wardrobe/workshop/rehearsal/administration facility in North Hobart, which is also used by other theatre companies for set-building, rehearsal and wardrobe purposes. The earliest revues were staged at either the Playhouse or the Theatre Royal for two or three-night seasons; these days a revue has a 14-night season at the Theatre Royal followed by a five-night season at Launceston’s Princess Theatre.

whoknows_poster.inddhollow-ground-2008-program-webbrassed-off-2008-program-webAnnual activities originally involved a revue, several lunchtime play readings at uni, and an entry in the national Festival of University Drama. Since then the company has grown to stage up to six major productions a year, in venues throughout Hobart and at festivals throughout the State. In many cases these productions have been Tasmanian or world premieres, such as the 2003 production of When A Man Knows, two of its 2008 productions, Brassed Off! and Hollow Ground, and the successful Who Knows in February 2009.

Highlights over the years will vary according to an individual member’s perception, but certainly the Golden Anniversary dinner ten years ago and 2008’s Diamond Anniversary dinner were wonderful occasions which brought lots of old friends together. Several members of the original 1948 revue – Smokin’ Hot – attended the company’s Diamond Anniversary dinner on July 5, 2008 – Barbara Hamilton, Betty Rockliff, Vona Beiers, Bob O’Conor and Bill Howroyd. It is highly unlikely that those students who first donned drag and kicked up their heels in 1948 could have imagined that they were part of what would become a Tasmanian institution. The Uni Revue is infamous – but it is also the financial backbone of the Company which enables other theatre to be produced. A conservatively estimated 600,000 people have sat in audiences to see Old Nick shows since 1948 and there are nlaint-nl39299-dmc2-vmany, many thousands who have been a part of the Company at some stage in their lives.

In February 2009 a reunion of the ‘Jarvis era’ (1948 – 1958) participants of the Company was held at Old Nick’s HQ at Letitia Street, and the Company once again worked with Life Member and former Director of NIDA John Clark to present Hamlet at the Peacock Theatre in June 2009.

You can see a list of Old Nick’s previous shows here.

SNIPPETS from REVIEWS of REVUES…

 

“If 1948 has no other claim to fame at least it will be remembered as the year of the University Revue. Before the war this Revue was an annual University student function, which was always much appreciated by the public of Hobart. However, since the production of “The Seven Ages of Man” in 1941, there has been a lapse of “Revue-less” years. Your S.R.C. has taken the new step of engaging a professional producer to stage this year’s Revue, and has been fortunate in securing the services of Mr Keith Jarvis, who has had many years experience in this type of work. Mr Jarvis and the Revue committee have been working together since October, and we have got together a Revue which will be the best that has ever been produced by the Tasmanian University Union.”
– Togatus 1948

“The Lord Mayor’s golden chain, the political appointment of the Agent-General in London, and independent members of Parliament earned a lot of witty comment. Graeme Salmon and Keith Jarvis were responsible for the splendid settings. The male ballet was the highlight of the show.”
– The Mercury 1950 (White Hot)

“This year’s University Revue, Nuts in May, was a bright and amusing show… the sets were quite the best we have seen. The one for the prehistoric ballet was the most original, and worthy of the highest praise. Costuming was good, and appropriate. …excellent production, acting and stage technique…”
– Togatus, 1951 (Nuts in May)

“Phillip Cowie almost stole the show, swaying down to the mike, rippling sex from joint to joint and leering ‘Golden Earrings’ like a sex-starved apparition from Outer Space”
– Togatus 1957 (Haughty Culture)

“Production technique, staging and sets were as good as, and probably better than, any past Revue. Stage effects were notable: the earth and attendant Sputniks of the opening, and the hilarious “Cover Girl” sequence stood out particularly. The songs were up to anything in previous Revues, and the theme song “Fast ‘n’ Lucifer” was one of the smoothest opening sequences yet.”
– Togatus 1958 (Fast ‘n’ Lucifer)

“It was good hard hitting satire… It’s colourful, musical, technically good, topical, crisp and above all extremely humorous. A healthy left wing viewpoint is discernible throughout the show and indicates signs of progressive thought and clear thinking in the university. In a bright, racy opening, Hobart’s “high society” is cleverly, though not very kindly, ridiculed with unnerving accuracy. Michael Edwards, producer of the show, clever and convincing, Brian King, artful and sharp, Janice Power, experienced and quite brilliant, Tony Manley, another old hand, playing various roles with accustomed unrelenting excellence and élan. Of the younger actors, Bevan Rees, the most outstanding and talented, playing comic parts with Chaplinesque hilarity… In all, for a show which is handled entirely by students from script to production and presentation, it is a laudable effort…”
– The Mercury 1961 (High Sobriety)

“Scripts seem particularly good. A highlight is a script on the Royal Tour… There are also scripts on the Common Market, local politics, French films and the modern anti-play. It is good to see parody of literary forms returning to the fore. The producer is Marcus Cooney. Marcus first appeared in “Fowl Play” where his performance as Eliza Doolittle was one of the highlights.”
– Togatus 1963 (Sin-Til-Eight)

“A dash of satire, a good helping of laughter, plenty of pretty girls, some slick sketches and a freshness of approach are the ingredients which make the University Revue Riot excellent entertainment. The production by Cliff Neate is smooth and fast moving… The press, radio, politics, television and big business all come in for their share of ragging.”
– The Mercury 1967 (RIOT)

“Principal awards go to the music and to Pat Harrison for his production which has some shape, especially in concerted musical numbers. The opening number, vigorous, well sung, clearly spoken and much to the point, is an almost brilliantly-conceived satire on the H.E.C. It is one of the cleverest episodes I have seen in a Uni Revue… There is good, uninhibited work by Vicki Baxter, Peter Reardon and Lesley Parker.”
– The Examiner 1971 (Dam it All)

“The Old Nick Company’s Ferry Tales at the Princess Theatre last night was, for a University Revue, surprisingly serious and well produced… some of the political lampooning was brilliant, particularly, as might be expected, of Reece, Neilson and Whitlam (including Mrs. Whitlam). Those who stood out in the cast were Graeme Paine, Greg Farquhar, Simon Hirst, Cathy Maxwell, Susan Williams and Lorraine East. But the whole cast work together as a team… smooth stage management, clever lighting and lavish costumes covered a multitude of amateur sins with slick, professional polish.”
– The Examiner 1975 (Ferry Tales)

“Karmel Knowledge is good, as if you had to be told, and the Revue is a distinct cut above those of the past few years. Top performances were put in by John Ireson, Stuart Heather, Susan Williams and Cathy Maxwell with more than adequate support from David Rish, Bill Friend, Mick Kelly and Pam Barber. …I laughed long and loud with the rest.”
– The Mercury 1976 (Karmel Knowledge)

“Old Nick is back in form… one of the best Revues staged by the Old Nick Company since it entered the theatrical business in 1948. This year’s… is cleaner and better looking than two or three years ago, and there is more genuine talent about.”
– The Mercury 1978 (New Clear Nickers)

“Director Simon Hirst, with his experience in theatre, opened the show with a spectacular dance number. It was beautifully dressed and executed, and accurately indicated the tenor of the show – taste. And it is the element, together with a quality wardrobe, Fred Rawlings’ catchy music and Angela Westbury’s choreography, which should ensure the show good audiences… There was applause for the opening scene, something which happens in Hobart infrequently: Proof that the show clicks.”
– The Mercury 1981 (The Shocking Hydro Show)

“…there’s tremendous care taken with the major item, Gray’s Miserables, in scripting, setting and execution. There’s nothing thrown together about this eye-opening opener built around the forthcoming state election and the mill debate. Tuala McDermott’s choreography may owe much to guess which current Melbourne show, but it’s given full value here by a well drilled cast. Lindsay Broughton’s magnificent set and Peter Richman’s musical direction, together with the cleverness of whichever of the seven scriptwriters wrote it, make this one of the best Uni Revue items seen for years. Bantam of the Opera, the Queensland Police footballers and an item on air safety are other high spots…”
– The Mercury 1989 (Gray’s Miserables)

“The show opens with an abnormally long political sketch called Hellova Twist, whose plot centres on Bob Squawk’s infamous pledge that no Australian child will live in poverty by 1990. In particular, musical maestro Ben Sibson’s Legend of Ned Kelly, sung as a barbershop quartet, is brilliant. Wellington and Colegrave must be congratulated on their first directing attempt – the show looks just as professional as in other years. In short, it’s a show not to be missed.”
– The Examiner 1990 (Children of a Lesser Bob)

“All Uni Revues make the same claim – this is the best yet. It’s not always true, of course, but this one, in its major items particularly, is one out of the box. All of the Tasmanian party leaders would have no trouble recognising themselves (two of them were sitting in my row) in this adult pantomime based on Hollywood’s updating of Peter Pan.”
– The Mercury 1992 (Crook)

“…this is a good one – mainly because Daryl Peebles has imprinted his mark on it both as director and principal writer. The whole show is built around Forrest Stump, a copy of the gormless Southerner of the movie, and Andrew Casey fills the role with flair. Fran Armstrong’s musical direction gives the whole thing a glow…”
– The Mercury 1995 (Forrest Stump)

“A slick script and pacey delivery ensures great entertainment for the entire performance. Got Shorty, which is directed by Ingrid Ganley, has some excellent characterisation (or should I say caricatures) and performances. Chris Hamley does a stirling job of sending up John Howard while Andrew Gregson, Andrew Casey, Rebecca Cole and Yo Smith, just to name a few, revel in their satire with great energy and enthusiasm. The 1996 Uni Revue builds on its popular, entertaining reputation with pizzazz and flair.”
– The Examiner 1996 (Got Shorty)

“X-rated… If this briskly-paced show really is director Graeme Paine’s swan song then he goes on a high note. It looks good – and under Ian Williams’ musical direction it sounds fine.”
– The Mercury 1998 (The Full Minty)

“Director Craig Wellington keeps his cast at good pace, and the team of writers will at some stage get a laugh out of anyone. Act two opened with a wonderfully warped and almost lyrical lawnmower ballet… By far the best sequence in the show is the Telstra 000 skit, about the alienation of call centres. With Paul Levett in great touch, this is biting, relevant satire…”
– The Sunday Tasmanian 1999 (South Pork)

“It’s Harry Potter meets Australian Politics – after this year’s effort audiences will be truly questioning our values.”
– The Examiner 2004 (Howard Plotter and the Golden Snatch)

“Co-directors Darren Sangwell and Hugh Miller have re-invigorated the annual Uni Revue. They’ve brought a youthful feel, a big dose of student irreverence and some fresh ideas to a formula…”
– Mercury 2008 (Kevin 007)

And then there is the press coverage we won’t own up to… well, we won’t reveal the year it was printed…

 

“All in all, a good and enjoyable Revue, with all the trimmings, but not quite enough stuffing.”
– Togatus 19XX

“I disapprove strongly when… “laugh lines”… are suspended in a vacuous, abysmal absence of wit, skill or any sort of constructive cunning.”
– The Examiner 19XX

“It’s a sadly warped state of affairs when the cream of our young brains can find less wit above the waist than below it.”
– The Examiner 19XX

“Some of the one minute quickies would be improved by being shortened by, say, 60 seconds…”
– The Mercury 19XX

“The unrelenting smutty jokes in the show make Benny Hill look like Brian Harradine.”
– The Sunday Tasmanian 19XX