Distinguished actor had 70-year career

PATRICIA KENNEDY, OBE ACTOR 17-3-1916 - 10-12-2012

PATRICIA KENNEDY, OBE

ACTOR

17-3-1916 - 10-12-2012

By MALCOLM ROBERTSON, ARIETTE TAYLOR and BERNARD HENNESSEY

PATRICIA Kennedy, who has died at the age of 96, contributed to film, the performing arts, television and radio in Australia and Britain over a span of 70 years.

She was born in Queenscliff in 1917 and moved to Hawthorn in 1925 to attend school at the Presentation Convent, Windsor. After her graduation, she enrolled at Maie Hoban's school of drama in East Melbourne.

In the late 1930s and '40s, she was a leading radio actor and won many awards working with Crawford Productions, numerous commercial radio stations and the ABC in radio plays and serials. She played Portia in The Merchant of Venice (1947) to critical acclaim and the title role in Ray Lawler's production of George Bernard Shaw's comedy Candida for the National Theatre movement at St Peters Hall, Eastern Hill.

In 1951, on a trip to Britain, she worked with Val Gielgud, a pioneer of radio drama for the BBC.

In 1953, she joined the inaugural season of the Union Theatre Repertory Company (later the Melbourne Theatre Company), appearing in Diana Morgan's After My Fashion and as the Countess in Christopher Fry's The Dark is Light Enough in Ray Lawler's 1955 production.

Once again, travelling to Britain, Patricia played leading roles at the Bristol Old Vic Company and Glasgow's Citizens Theatre.

When she returned in 1958, she played Miss Madrigal in the J.C. Williamson production of The Chalk Garden with Dame Sybil Thorndike and Sir Lewis Casson. The noted English director Lionel Harris had cast a local actor to play a leading role in a commercial production! At this time, Australians were supporting players to imported actors. Patricia proved that we could match the best actors from overseas.

Wal Cherry, the director of a new experimental company, the Emerald Hill Theatre Company, approached her to play Linda in Death of a Salesman. In her quest for continual challenge, she accepted without hesitation.

After working "off Bourke Street", she entered one of her most creative periods as a stage actor. In 1967, she played Alice in John Sumner's production of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance at the Russell Street Theatre.

When George Ogilvie directed his production of Chekhov's Three Sisters in 1958, Patricia lamented: "Today I'm playing the 80-year-old nurse, Anfisa. When I was a young actor, there was no company in Melbourne adventurous enough to present the play, so I never had the opportunity to play one of the three sisters."

The innovative director Tyrone Guthrie chose her to play the Countess of Rossillion in Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well for the MTC at the Princess Theatre in 1970, a role she played to perfection.

To her gallery of intelligent, considered and independent women, she added another effective portrayal in Ray Lawler's The Man Who Shot the Albatross, which featured Leo McKern as the embattled Governor William Bligh.

In 1979, Patricia joined Deborah Kerr in The Day after the Fair for a commercial tour presented by Paul Dainty.

In the early 1970s, the Australia Council for the Arts asked her to serve as its theatre consultant, which she did for two years.

When she returned "to the boards", it was to play Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night with the South Australian Theatre Company for seasons in Adelaide and Melbourne.

In 1977, Patricia bought a property at Tanja on the New South Wales south coast. The Australian bush had always held a fascination for her. It was a haven where she could reflect and gather inspiration, and Patricia regarded her 25 years at Tanja as her happiest. In that time, she made numerous appearances in film and television. The films included My Brilliant Career, The Getting of Wisdom, Country Life and The Road to Nhill. She made television appearances in Return to Eden, Prisoner, Five Mile Creek, The Flying Doctors and G.P.

In 1984, Patricia returned to Melbourne to appear in Medea as the Nurse, to open the Victorian Arts Centre in the Playhouse. The celebrated Australian actor Zoe Caldwell, playing Medea, the role that had won her a Tony award, said she found Patricia a far more available, warm and giving actor than Judith Anderson, who played the Nurse on Broadway.

Carrillo Gantner, the artistic director of the Playbox Theatre, offered her the role of the aviatrix suffering from a stroke in Arthur Kopit's Wings at the Playbox , followed by a visit to the Adelaide Festival Centre.

Patricia continued her association with the Playbox when she appeared in The Newspaper of Claremont Street, directed by Ariette Taylor. This association between actor and director developed and grew in importance over the next decade. Patricia next appeared in Ariette's production of Alive and Kicking and in Disturbing the Dust, directed and written by Ariette for the Playbox and which played at the Adelaide Festival and the Merlyn Theatre in Melbourne.

Soon afterwards a chosen group of actors, including Patricia, gathered at the minute Black Box within the Victorian College of the Arts to read several one-act plays by Daniel Keene. Another adventure in the theatrical process began that night and Patricia was only too eager and excited to be part of this nascent company. Eventually she appeared in Rain to great acclaim at La Mama and at the Beckett Theatre in South Melbourne.

No other actor has represented the performing arts with such ideals and tenacity. Patricia embodied that strange power to silently demand from her fellow actors a commitment that passed "all understanding". There were many times her fellow actors remained "wanting". These momentary setbacks never dulled her commitment to the goal of honouring each audience with a vision revealed or a human truth uncovered.

Patricia never abandoned her plea for a national theatre company comprising our most accomplished senior actors and young actors performing a repertoire of Australian plays and the classics. She advised and coached many young actors in the pursuit of excellence as she regarded acting as an act of service to something greater than herself and her ego.

As Hamlet stated, "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines." This Shakespearean quotation could have been Patricia's advice to her fellow Australian actors!

Patricia was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1982 for services to the performing arts and was awarded the Kenneth Myer Medallion for the Performing Arts in recognition of her contribution to Australian theatre.