Long time Age newspaper theatre critic Leonard Radic died today at Cabrini Hospital in Melbourne.
Born in 1935 and educated at Melbourne University where he had been editor of the student newspaper Farrago, Radic played a central role in 30 years of Australian theatre, an era when critics had full-time employment. In that bygone age, arts critics in major newspapers were supported on staff while also fitting in their duties of sub-editing, writing news, features, or in Radic’s case in later years, editorial leader writing.
Radic was The Age‘s deputy theatre critic from 1964 to 1974 and its chief critic from then until 1994. That period saw him stand witness to the birth of an explosive era of Australian theatre ushered in by La Mama and the Australian Performing at the Pram Factory in Carlton in the mid-1960s. These new collectives (and many smaller groups) injected new life into Melbourne theatre, long dominated by the Melbourne Theatre Company which had become stodgy since its own glorious beginnings in the 1950s.
The ’70s to ’90s might not have had the same chaotic, if not bewildering (at least for audiences) energy of the ’60s, but the ‘fringe’ theatre scene (though that term was only beginning to be used then), emerged into something more organised, even professional.
Actors, directors, writers and designers leaving the fading Pram Factory formed Hoopla in the mid ’70s which later became Playbox; the legendary Anthill Theatre under Jean-Pierre Mignon set up shop in the ’80s, and Circus Oz had been established in the late 1970s laying the seeds for a determinedly physical approach to theatre. At the same time, Melbourne’s theatre scene was forever altered by the arrival of the Melbourne Festival in the mid-’80s allowing audiences (and theatre critics) to see work beyond their own borders.
As the chief theatre critic in what was effectively a one newspaper town (as far as arts coverage went), Radic’s considered reviewing style meant he had his own critics in the theatre world. (Playwright Jack Hibberd caricatured him as ‘Leonardo Radish’ in the play Dimboola.) When Radic concluded a review with the sober sign-off, “warmly recommended”, it probably meant he was ecstatic about it. But his knowledge of, belief in, and hopes for a strong Australian theatre could never be doubted.
Like many theatre critics, Radic was also a playwright and wrote about a dozen plays both before, during and after he was The Age’s theatre critic. He was also the author of two books on theatre including State of Play: The Revolution in the Australian Theatre since the 1960s (Penguin, 1991).