Based on the layout of the original Fortune Playhouse (London, c. 1600), this theatre is an ideal venue for reproducing Shakespearean-era plays in their unique performance space.
Located within the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the theatre also makes a unique setting for dance, drama and music.
The theatre can seat up to 340 patrons on four levels around the stage.
The New Fortune Theatre was the brain-child of Professor Allan Edwards. Appointed to the Chair of English at UWA in 1941, Professor Edwards encouraged staff members Jean Tweedie (Jeana Bradley), Neville Teede and Phillip Parsons to undertake studies in Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration theatre in the United Kingdom during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
All were associated with the New Fortune project. Having noted that the dimensions of the Arts Building’s western courtyard coincided with the stage and pit of London’s 1599 Fortune Theatre, Professor Edwards conceived the idea of transforming the courtyard into the New Fortune Theatre, as a version of its 1599 London namesake.
Perth architect Marshall Clifton incorporated the specifications of the New Fortune into his design for the Arts Building, in consultation with Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Peter Parkinson.
The New Fortune Theatre opened on 29 January 1964 with Jeana Bradley’s production of Hamlet for Bankside Theatre Productions, the Graduate Dramatic Society, and the University Dramatic Society, as part of the Festival of Perth.
Sir Laurence Olivier and other celebrities sent congratulatory telegrams on the occasion. A recorded reading by Sir John Gielgud from Ben Jonson’s ‘To The Memory of ... Master William Shakespeare’ was played during the Opening Ceremony that preceded the inaugural performance. The fledgling New Fortune soon proved to be popular with audiences as an open-air venuefor local, national and international Festival of Perth productions, under Festival Directors John Birman [1953-1975] and David Blenkinsop [1976-1999].
The sweep and intimacy of the New Fortune stage have challenged and inspired local performers, directors and playwrights: Dorothy Hewett’s Chapel Perilous premiered there in 1971; the pit was filled with water for the premiere of David Williams’ Beautiful Mutants in 1993. Continuing a tradition of University summer productions that began with Hamlet in 1964, the Graduate Dramatic Society has presented nineteen Shakespeare productions on the New Fortune stage since 1995.
In 2014, the New Fortune Theatre celebrates the 50th anniversary of its opening.
The ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE) has worked hard since its inception in 2011 with the support of the Dean of Arts, to draw local and international attention to the extraordinary potential of the New Fortune as a rare theatre reconstruction which would be coveted by major cities around the world.
In comparison, Shakespeare’s Globe cost many millions to build and has proved extraordinarily successful in every way. CHE organized a symposium in September 2011 with some of the world’s most important theatre historians who had been involved themselves in theatre replicas elsewhere.
As a result CHE appointed a Research Fellow (2012-16) whose job is to research the New Fortune and enhance its international profile in conjunction with the New Fortune’s 50th anniversary in 2014, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday in 2014, and his 400th death-date in 2016.
In addition UWA’s Cultural Precinct has set up a working party to prepare a major application for funding to refurbish the stage and bring the theatre to life once again.
Dr Penelope Woods, Research Associate, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions