Celebrating Hunters Hill Theatre’s 90th Year

  • October 24, 2019

Today I rise to mark the 90th year of one of the most enduring community based cultural institutions in the North Sydney electorate: the Hunters Hill Theatre. In fact, the theatre lays claim to being the oldest continuous community theatre on the Australian mainland, only pipped at the post by one other in Tasmania.

As all of us know, the performing arts have been an essential and constant part of almost all human cultures for thousands of years. Drama was enjoyed most famously in our annals by the ancient Greeks thousands of years ago, and to this day it entrances, intrigues and explores the human condition. It is this great tradition which is carried on by the Hunters Hill Theatre, making it an intrinsic part of the Hunters Hill community and the broader region.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the launch of the theatre’s 2020 season and I was enormously impressed by the energy, enthusiasm and professionalism of the theatre. I look forward to attending some of their productions next year, which, appropriately for such an anniversary year, starts with the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap.

I would also like to acknowledge some of the people who have made the continued operation and success of the Hunters Hill Theatre possible. These include current president Christopher Hamilton and past presidents Maggie Scott, Lynn Trainor, Penny Church, Coralie Fraser and Andrew Redfern; public officer Tony Clifford; and life member Gai Shannon.

In the 1920s a small play-reading circle was formed as a result of the inspiration from a Ms Jeanie Ranken, who was well known in Sydney’s theatrical circles at the time and who wanted her godchild, Nora Murray Prior, ‘to become familiar with the literature she should not otherwise read’. The original group took the form of a drawing room reading circle of a small group of friends who began to meet in each other’s homes for the purpose of reading plays. The decision to read plays was the result of the fact that an amateur cast could not, apparently, be expected to learn lines for a schedule of monthly performances. Some of the earliest plays read by the club were excerpts from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and other plays that were read during this early time included Mr. Pim Passes By, by A A Milne, and writings by Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Yeats and Irvine.

Since that time, the club has gone from strength to strength. For a number of years the theatre was based on St John’s Parish. Tragically, the theatre lost almost all of its costumes, props and club records when vandals set fire to the parish hall in 1993, forcing the theatre to move to an adjoining church, where it remained until 2016. The club is now settled in Hunters Hill Town Hall. Today the Hunters Hill Theatre is a thriving community based organisation. For the last 36 years, the theatre has staged four productions a year, which is an incredible achievement for an amateur community organisation.

I want to congratulate everyone who has been involved in the Hunters Hill Theatre over the last 90 years. May the theatre entertain, delight and stir a love for drama in future generations of locals for many more years to come.