Saying farewell to the Fortune

Former Fortune wardrobe mistress Maryanne Wright-Smyth fits Barry Dorking's costume for his...
Former Fortune wardrobe mistress Maryanne Wright-Smyth fits Barry Dorking's costume for his appearance as the snobbish Lady Bracknell. Photo: Christine O'Connor
A group of Dunedin theatre practitioners has taken up the challenge of saying farewell to the Fortune Theatre and showing there is still life in the city's theatre industry. Rebecca Fox talks to some of those involved in the upcoming Farewell to the Fortune Gala Shows. 

It has been a few decades since Barry Dorking put on a dress, but a chance to play Lady Bracknell in the Importance of Being Earnest was too great to resist.

"There are not many male actors who get a chance to play Lady Bracknell and it's one of the greatest parts in English Theatre," Dorking says.

The draw must be especially strong as Dorking is also planning to shave off his moustache for the occasion.

"It has to go."

Karen Elliot
Karen Elliot
Dorking played Rev. Canon Chasuble in the first production of the Oscar Wilde play at the Fortune in 1976.

Putting on his costume for Lady Bracknell, with the help of former Fortune wardrobe mistress Maryanne Wright-Smyth, he commented that the last time he wore a dress was for children's television show Playschool when he played an ugly sister in the show's Christmas pantomime.

Wright-Smyth said it was lucky she had made some dresses for men during her time at the Fortune that fitted Dorking.

"By the time I get finished he'll look elegant. He'll have a beautiful wig and hat on."

The pair reminisced over the last time they had worked together - on a Fortune production of Much Ado About Nothing many years ago.

Dorking said while he did not subscribe to the "tragic Fortune" story as the people still remained, he was looking forward to the galas.

"It's the same people. It's always fun."

Wright-Smyth was also enjoying herself, digging bits and pieces of costumes out of the Fortune wardrobe, thankful that many of the excerpts came from more recent shows.

Dorking will hit the Mayfair stage as part of two revue-style gala shows aimed at bidding farewell to the Fortune Theatre, which closed earlier this year.

The galas will feature songs and excerpts from four of the Fortune Theatre's most popular productions, which includes the Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde's most enduring play.

Also on the bill are Danny Mulheron and Stephen Sinclair's The Sex Fiend , Roger Hall's Conjugal Rites and Patrick Barlow's worldwide hit The 39 Steps.

Stage South's Karen Elliot, who is producing the galas, said after the disappointment, anger and sadness around the Fortune's quick demise, she believed someone needed to do something to acknowledge the work of not only the actors and stage staff, but the many volunteers as well.

"It's a good way to have some fun, give some people a little work - it's getting the gang together again."

She thought the time had come to end the Fortune's run on a positive note.

With little time and money, putting on a season of any play was not an option, so in the end it was decided to do the four excerpts from its most popular plays - Fortune dramaturg Alister McDonald had collated a list of the top 50 plays, 26 of them Hall plays.

They had also brought in Peter Hayden to be MC for the night alongside Pip Laufiso and a few extra songs from Hall's plays will be performed.

The shows, supported by the Otago Community Trust, are also an opportunity to highlight Stage South, a charitable trust which was formed in the wake of the Fortune's demise, to support and promote the continuation of professional theatre in Dunedin.

"We're here to stay. We'll continue making theatre, just not in that building. It'll also give people a preview of what's coming up next year."

Its 57 members are professional theatre practitioners and include directors, technicians, designers, actors, producers and writers, most of whom have worked at the Fortune as well as producing their own work with local independent theatre companies.

To see

Farewell to the Fortune Gala Shows, Mayfair Theatre, November 9 and 10.

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