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Three children, a husband, and a revue to rehearse
By GLORIA NEWTON
REHEARSAL: Ruth Cracknell's mobile face changes quickly as her revue role proceeds.
A LITTLE gilt clock
standing on an old bookcase softly ticked away the time with its two swishing pendulums, while its companion, a red plastic rose, leaned forlornly from a vase.
Gaily colored posters an- nouncing long - past shows were festooned around the walls of the small, dusty room, which serves as an annexe to the Phillip Theatre rehearsal hall tucked away in a Rushcutters Bay back street of Sydney.
From behind a closed door came the sounds of a piano being pounded, and you could hear the voices of Ruth Cracknell, Gloria Dawn, and Lyle O'Hara coming through in spurts of song, and dialogue spoken in the clear, loud voices of the theatre, broken with gusts of laughter.
All three were engrossed in rehearsing for the new all girl Phillip Theatre show, "But I Wouldn't Want To Live There," which opens in Sydney on October 21.
I was waiting to see Ruth Cracknell. Ruth, who has
been1 compared to Joyce Grenfell and praised for her zany, revue quality and her ability to look madly logical in the teeth of chaos, has flashed on and off the enter-
tainment scene over the past
Until that time, when she was married, her life had been Greek plays, Strindberg, and Shakespeare. Then, a surprise casting in a comedy play, "The Duenna," and a subsequent offer of revue changed her professional role.
She became, she said, a
But, for the past ten years, except for a brief period in the revue "A Cup Of Tea, A Bex, And A Good Lie Down," she confined her appearances to radio and TV.
The reason? In private life she is Mrs. Eric Phillips and
has three children.
In fact, any contract she signed specified that her role would not interfere with her responsibilities as a wife and
It was for this reason she bowed out of a starring role in the highly successful ''A Cup Of Tea, etc.," after only 187 performances.
That was two years ago. Now, with the children out of the baby stage, Ruth felt she could once again return to her love, the stage.
The tantalising sounds of a revue in the making came to an abrupt halt, and through the door came a tall woman, dressed simply in skirt and blouse, with a cardigan hanging loosely
from her shoulders.
"Sorry you couldn't come in, but the show is still a deep, dark secret." Ruth smiled as she ran her fingers through tousled blonde hair, and added with a resigned shrug, "When rehearsals step up to this pace, hairdressers are definitely out."
Fair complexioned, with shy blue eyes and the mobile face of an actress, her
smile is warm, her manner direct.
"I hate rehearsing revue shows," she said, sinking into
a tired old armchair.
"With straight drama there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you sort of know where you are going, what you are practising.
"But with revue, well, it is there and you do it, and once the opening night comes along and you try it out and it goes over, you are relaxed, and from then on it's just
"I'm not saying comedy is not hard work. It is, and everything is up to you. You've got to pull it off the ground.
"But it is not as strenuous
as drama, and you get your reward from the laughter."
Ruth started her theatrical career in radio while she was
studying at Sydney's Inde- pendent Theatre's drama
"All the old 'soapies,' " she said, laughing, "including 'Blue Hills.' But, of course, everyone in show business has played in that.
"Most of thern were so much of a sameness you sometimes forgot which one you were appearing in. Except for those written by Eleanor Whitcombe. They were nice and emotional, and I remember I had a
wonderful time playing lovely, bitchy ladies who were always being 'put upon.'
"Revue came into my life when English producer Lionel Harris, casting for the comedy 'The Duenna,' offered me a part.
"Comedy then was a com- pletely new field to me and I found, to my surprise, that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then, when I was asked to appear in the Phillip Street Theatre revue 'Cross Section' I was thrilled and honored.
"Oh, the changeover wasn't easy, believe me.
"But once you get started in revue and get used to it you become an addict. I
know I did.
"Yes, it's true that I won't let my professional life inter
fere with the family. That is why, since the children arrived, I have only worked part time, mainly on radio and TV, which is easily fitted into a 'mum's' life.
"One of the things I really did enjoy doing for TV were the batch of about 20 five minute sketches I wrote, sending up people making an appearance at a function. For instance, a woman flower expert giving an exhibition of Ikebana arrangements and messing the whole thing up.
"They were so James Thurber, and I am a devoted fan of his.
"Do I prefer drama to comedy? Well, let's put it this way. When I'm doing comedy I prefer drama, and when I'm doing drama I prefer comedy.
"Does my husband mind my working? I should say not. He keeps pushing me into it. Tells me that I am impossible to live with if I am not working.
"He is an electronics
engineer and terribly inter-
ested in the theatre. A few years ago he used to dabble in stage lighting as a hobby.
"In fact, it was while he was doing the lighting for 'The Duenna' that we got married. We only just man- aged to get a ten-day honey- moon in before the show opened..
"And my children think my work is fun. They watch my TV shows now and then, but I censor their viewing a bit. Children are not keen on seeing Mum being laughed at or behaving like
"Anna, my eldest, is nine, Jane is six, and Jonathan is going, on four.
"Naturally, the children
are interested in the theatri
cal world at the moment, bu I'm going to do my utmos to stop them following ii mother's footsteps.
"Having been through th? grind of show business my-
self - and it can be heart- breaking - I don't want thc same life for them.
"But, if they really had their hearts set on it I wou
never stop them. It is cruî! to stop creative talent.
"Pm just hoping that,
they are really intelligent kids, they will get interested in something else.
"Right now we are in a bit of an upheaval at home We have just moved into a lovely old-fashioned home. You know the type. Great big rooms, the drawing-room is 30ft. long, high ceilings, fireplaces everywhere, divine - and unpacked cartons in the middle of every room.
"It all happened when I was doing a Reg Livermore thing, you know, the 'I'm Alright Now' series, and it was a very hectic week for
"Any jealousy with an all female cast? Not a bit of it We do have lovely female screaming acts at each other - but they are all in fun and help relieve the working
"Lyle and I went to drama school together and we are very good friends. She is the type who, when she goes away, never writes, but who, when she comes back, picks up the conversation from the
"And Gloria Dawn. Well, she is a most untempera mental, delightful person to
"Right now we are all feeling the same. Just wait- ing for opening night, when we can go ahead with the