Colonial ‘Australian’ Theatre Writers: Cultural Authorship and the Case of Marcus Clarke’s ‘First’ Play


Founded in the wake of the industrial revolution, Australia as a series of six British colonies was meshed into the global commercial popular entertainment industry, linked by continuous touring by artistes and companies via the international and intercolonial shipline, road, and later rail routes. Constructions of colonial Australia as poignantly stigmatised by 'cultural isolation' or monocultural insularity speedily disperse in the face of the abundant evidence of the international and intercultural nature of colonial theatre. Recent research assesses, amongst other activity by artistes who were in temporary or permanent residence in the Australasian colonies, the work of American minstrel troupes (Waterhouse 1990), circuses (St Leon 1983; Carroll 1995) and black American gospel choirs; Italian tragediennes (Mitchell 1995); European and Chinese opera troupes (Love 1981; 1985); Japanese circus troupes - initially billed as 'Siamese' to protect their identity from retribution at home (Simpson 1995, 156-57; Sissons 1995); Spanish and Maori dance groups as well as European musicians and anglophone companies of considerable stature from the British Isles and the United States. Amongst the literary material servicing this varied repertoire of performance genres might be found Irish rebel melodramas and Wagnerian opera, 'screaming farces' and historical tragedies, imperial patriotic pantomimes or subversive bushranger shows, and Shakespeare in dramatic, hippodramatic, operatic or burlesqued versions. This repertoire comprised an ongoing hybrid performance practice wherein plantation minstrel tunes and slapstick transvestite comedy on local satiric themes moderated imperceptibly into 'Australian' larrikin vaudeville (Waterhouse), and wherein until the inception in 1879 of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, French opera-bouffe dominated colonial musical-theatre taste.

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Published 1 May 1997 in Volume 18 No. 1. Subjects: Australian drama, Authorship, Colonial literature & writers, Defining an Australian literature, Marcus Clarke.

Cite as: Kelly, Veronica. ‘Colonial ‘Australian’ Theatre Writers: Cultural Authorship and the Case of Marcus Clarke’s ‘First’ Play.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1997, doi: 10.20314/als.be3b43fb60.