July 4, 2013

Richard Campion, known to most as Dick, has died in Wellington in his 90th year.  

He spend the past couple of months at Sprott House in Karori and although suffering an “interesting” form of dementia (as described by his second wife, Judith), he remained active, taking daily walks and enjoying life in his inimitable way despite his increasing fragility. His daughters Anna and Jane, and son Michael, had all been to visit very recently and he succumbed to pneumonia on Tuesday (2nd July).

There will be a private family farewell at Whenua Tapu on Friday and a formal announcement is expected in the Dominion Post on Saturday. Doubtless an obituary will follow.

Plans are afoot for a more open celebration of Dick’s life in the summer, possibly involving a picnic at Peka Peka, and similar to the event for Edith Campion in September 2007.  

[Image credit: RICHARD CAMPION and NOLA MILLAR at NZ Players, 1953: The Dominion Ref: MS-papers-1563-10-01]

Meanwhile thoughts and memories are invited on this Forum.

This excerpt from the first chapter of Downstage Upfront: the first 40 years of New Zealand’s longest running professional theatre recalls when the Campions first made an impact on our professional theatre scene:

Our most substantial national professional theatre company ever, the New Zealand Players, had lasted less than a decade. Initiated in the early 1950s by Richard and Edith Campion, on their return from three years at the Old Vic Theatre School in London, its aims were: ‘to provide varied and first-class theatre; to encourage the development of playwriting, acting and theatregoing in New Zealand; to play from Whangarei to Invercargill’.

In attempting to meet the overheads implicit in touring the established network of large venues, their productions ranged from high-level classics to low-level potboilers. Although Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge gained strong audience support, it was the cost of touring and the lack of a government subsidy that contributed most to the Players’ financial collapse in 1960. Theatre commentator Peter Harcourt cites other factors as ‘alienation of the amateurs, failure to integrate the company properly in the community [and] high administrative costs coupled with an uncertain box office’.[i]

When the Players were resurrected a year later as the New Zealand Theatre Company but initially confined to Wellington, a grant from the newly established Arts Advisory Council (precursor to the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council) allowed them to maintain their administrative headquarters and workshop, and implement new policies. Their intention was to tour one classical play a year, revive the New Zealand Players Drama Quartet (which toured intermediate and secondary schools), form special units to tour holiday resorts in the summer, and establish a drama school.

Their first tour, of Romeo and Juliet, closed early in Hamilton. In November 1961, at the recently opened Victoria University Memorial Theatre, they premièred James K Baxter’s Three Women and the Sea and Joseph Musaphia’s Free to better critical response. Beyond that the Players Quartet remained their only performance activity.

 [i]     Harcourt, A Dramatic Appearance, pp93, 98. 

Share on social


Make a comment