Behind the Scenes with Ron Pidcock,
Lord Chancellor of Iolanthe
Evergreen entertainer Ron Pidcock has enjoyed an illustrious career on stage in a multitude of well-received roles; and off, as a Committee Member and two terms as Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Victoria President.
He was recently rewarded for his contribution to our national performing arts culture with a 2017 Order of Australia Medal. Here he is in his own words.
I have been performing in theatre since I was eleven in 1954. My mother, Gloria Birdwood-Smith, was a leading theatre personality in Brisbane and my father stage-managed most of the productions for the Brisbane Repertory Theatre (now La Boîte), so I had a very theatrical upbringing, although this remained a hobby, rather than a full-time career, which was banking.
In 1966 I joined the Queensland Light Opera Company, where I met my wife-to-be.
Both of us were working full time day jobs, although in Robyn’s case the employment rules in those days for the AMP Society precluded her continued employment whilst – a) being married, and b) having children. In this she became a trail-blazer by being one of the first to be re-employed after marriage, and again after our son and daughter were born.
As well as having an active participation in the theatre, we were both accepted into the inaugural Associate Diploma of Creative Arts course at the North Brisbane College of Advanced Education, from which we graduated in 1980. We have also been involved with other theatre groups in Queensland; then in 1991 I was posted to New Zealand, where we performed with the Wellington G & S Society and the Opera-Technique Inc. group, followed by my final posting to Melbourne, where we joined the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Victoria (GSOV) in 1994.
"The honour of OAM was a complete surprise, and when I was first notified of it I thought that someone was playing a joke."
It was here that I had the opportunity to play most of the leading patter baritone roles, and in 2005 to go to England, to play the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe for the SavoyNet Group as part of the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, where I won the award for Best Character Actor.
The GSOV decided to take a production of Patience to England in 2007, followed in 2011 by two shows - The Arcadians (a non-G & S) and The Yeomen of the Guard. In 2014 Robyn and I went again to perform in SavoyNet’s Thespis in which I played the title role.
Over the years I have helped to design and build scenery, create props, design lighting plots, rig lights, work follow spots, sell programmes, in fact assist in most aspects of putting on a show. For GSOV I have served as a committee member, and two three-year terms as President. In 2014 I was granted Honorary Life membership, which had been granted to Robyn the previous year.
I have always made a point of encouraging new performers and imparting what knowledge I possess when possible, and of leading by example.
At present I am rehearsing the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe to be performed at the Darebin Performing Arts Complex on 5, 6, 7 May. This production is directed by Diana Burleigh, and is based on her 2005 SavoyNet production, so Melbourne theatre-goers will have an opportunity to see something that has been performed at the International G & S Festival.
My other interests include Freemasonry, membership of the Richard III Society where I am currently Chairman of the Victoria Branch, and woodturning. Robyn and I often dabble in many types of craft work.
In July I will be performing as George Grossmith, the originator of most of the G & S patter roles, in a production of A Song to Sing O, at the Phoenix Theatre, Elwood.
The honour of OAM was a complete surprise, and when I was first notified of it I thought that someone was playing a joke. It is very humbling to think that my work in the theatre and in the general community has been so highly thought of, but I am conscious of the important role Robyn has played in all my endeavours. Her support and encouragement have contributed greatly to my success.
Iolanthe premieres at the Darebin Arts & Entertainment Centre for a strictly limited season: May 5th - 7th
Bookings & Enquiries: (03) 8470 8280
Beloved and beautiful, immortal Iolanthe has broken one of her fairy kingdom's biggest rules – she fell in love with a human and was banished for marrying a mortal.
Now twenty-five years later, these two worlds will collide as her son, Strephon (half fairy from the waist up, and mortal from the waist down), has rapturous plans to wed pretty Phyllis, a sweet voiced shepherdess and ward of the Lord Chancellor. Unfortunately, Strephon has a lot of competition from just about every peer in the House of Lords, including the Lord Chancellor himself!
With class complications, mistaken identities, and not a little bit of supernatural shenanigans, will true love be enough to win out when party political lines are drawn?
GSOV is the performing arm of The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Victoria which has been delighting audiences with its productions for over 80 years. One of the longest running theatrical organisations in Australia, it has been hailed as one of our country’s leading light opera companies. GSOV performs not only in Melbourne and regional Victoria, but has also won awards on the international stage at the premier Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in the United Kingdom.