Wednesday, 22 June 2011

When is coconut ice dangerous?

He was the most marvellous melodramatic villain any stage could hope to be trampled over.  He was also something of a legend in Sydney back in the early 1960s for being the eternal law student at Sydney University.  Martyn Corbett was a presence not to be ignored - larger than life and a genuine bon vivant. 

Boo! Hiss!

The Genesian Theatre presented the melodrama Only an Orphan Girl and I was DESPERATE to play the part of the Orphan Girl's mother (such anomalies are acceptable in melodramas). 

Dang ... if only I still had that dress!

I don't think I slept for a week after I won the role, particularly as my best friend Penny was to play the Orphan Girl.  The Villain's Moll was Judi Farr who was beginning to make a name for herself in the acting world. 

The Sydney critics loved it, as did the audiences and the season was a sell-out.  We had the Snow scene when the Orphan Girl was thrown out of the house, the Saw Mill scene when the Villain did dastardly things to the Orphan Girl, and in between all these scenes of mayhem and pathos the audience were entertained by a Barber Shop Quartet and various other side acts. 

So why is coconut ice dangerous?

The patrons were sold packets of peanuts in their shells and coconut ice before the show.  They were encouraged to throw the peanuts at the villain and to eat the coconut ice.  One hot and muggy evening the coconut ice virtually melted into a soggy, hardened mess - unfortunately it was the same night that a mob of university students came to see the show.  I was standing next to the Villain when he threatened that if the mortgage wasn't paid by midnight (and the clock was dinging away the hour in the background) we would all be thrown out into the snow.  A good time to throw a few peanuts.  However, the uni students found the rock-hard coconut ice inedible and decided that they would make excellent missiles to launch at the Villain.  The Villain I was standing next to.  I felt like a duck in a shooting gallery.  By popular demand the coconut ice was withdrawn from sale until the weather improved.

A few months after the end of the production Martyn sailed to Europe and the following year my best friend (and Orphan Girl) and I left for a year in London.  We were walking along Earls Court one evening after work when who should be coming towards us but Martyn Corbett, who greeted us warmly and ushered us into the nearest coffee shop.  When he discovered we were about to leave for two months in Europe he swept us out of the coffee shop (without paying - he was caught up in the moment and the poor proprietor looked too stunned to stop us) and took us home to lend us some books on Rome, which he knew we could not survive without. 

Over the years we often wondered what happened to Martyn.  I googled his name a few times but could not find anything past the 1970s.  Then late last month Penny rang to advise that he had died.  I felt sad and filled with pangs of nostalgia, but was pleased that he had rated a half page obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald.

I wasn't at all surprised to read that he had become a teacher and that he had mentored and encouraged one of his students, Alfred Molina, who wrote this homage to him in 2009.

Alfred Molina in Spiderman

The last time I saw Alfred Molina he was playing a villain - so my story has come the full circle.

Vale Martyn Corbett



Jetta's Nest said...

Fascinating Robyn. I'm sure going to miss you when you move! I'm thinking it'd be an awesome idea for you to write a book oneday to record all of the amazing adventures you've got hidden away.

Sandrine said...

What an incredible story Robyn!