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Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Memories of a golden age

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by July 23, 2017 General
Best of times: Civic theatre manager Vanessa Hutchins with retired Newcastle playwright John O'Donoghue in the Civic Playhouse. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Best of times: Civic theatre manager Vanessa Hutchins with retired Newcastle playwright John O’Donoghue in the Civic Playhouse. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

JOHN O’Donoghue shuffles across the Civic Playhouse stage, leaning on his walking stick, before he finds stillness. He looks up and squints at the space before him.

There is no audience, no sets or props, and no actors. The empty seats face a stage bare but for one immaculately dressed older man.

Yet in here, O’Donoghue sees a lot more than emptiness. After all, he made a name for himself by staring into the void and then populating it with characters and filling it with stories. 

John O’Donoghue is one of Newcastle’s best-known playwrights. Where he stands, his words and imaginings were breathed to life, including the play considered a classic of Australian theatre, Essington Lewis: I am Work.

“It made me really,” the 87-year-old mutters, while surveying every angle of the little theatre. 

John O’Donoghue was hardly alone in shaping his creative self on this stage. It launched many a career in the theatre. What’s more, in the Playhouse, Novocastrians heard their own voices and saw themselves emerging out of the darkness in ways that were funny and tragic, melodic and moving. This space was a community’s magic mirror. For the best part of 20 years, this was the Hunter Valley Theatre Company’s home. O’Donoghue says without the HVTC, “I wouldn’t have had as many plays done”.

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