Memoriam John Krummel OAM: Australian Theatre Director and actor

John Krummel OAM

Director and Actor

a life well lived

Gone but never forgotten — John Charles Krummel OAM was born on 20 August 1944 in Broken Hill, NSW, Australia, his family soon moved to Wagga Wagga. After attending Wagga High School, Krummel applied to the acting course at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 1962.

John became one of Australia’s most brilliant, dynamic and eccentric thespians who went on to have a distinguished acting career with Sydney’s Old Tote Theatre and the legendary Nimrod.

At NIDA Thomas Keneally’s first play CHILDERMAS (1968), John played a man interrogated under torture during the Vietnam war. It gave him the opportunity to howl his heart out and terrify the audience.

His strong enunciation meant he was in high demand for the ABC’s radio drama broadcasts. By making use of the ABC’s play library in his own time, John gained an encyclopedic knowledge of English and American plays.

In 1968, the producer Harry M Miller secured the rights of the off-Broadway play THE BOYS IN THE BAND. It opened in Sydney a year later with John in the lead as Michael, the gay host of an outrageous party. The opening night audience was full of gay men. The play was a wild success, but legal problems loomed. In July 1969 in Melbourne, after an early performance, Vice Squad detectives were waiting for him and two other members of the cast in the foyer of the Playbox Theatre. They were arrested for using obscene language in a public place for uttering the ‘f and c-words’. The actors subsequently appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court where the Magistrate dismissed the charges as ‘trifling.’ The Vice Squad appealed to the Supreme Court and Producer Harry M. Miller, who had brought the play to Australia, pointed out that 72,000 people had seen the production since its opening in June, and not one had complained to members of his staff, his switchboard or the Vice Squad.

This gave rise to demonstrations for the freedom of speech. The season’s sell-out was assured. Harry Miller was a shrewd operator and, since it only took one formal complaint to the police, it was assumed that Miller himself had arranged a letter be sent from an “outraged citizen”. The now sold-out THE BOYS IN THE BAND toured around Australia for 2 years to critical acclaim. It was during the long tour that John learned the critical technique of keeping his performance fresh.

In 1975, John was contracted for a year to play at the Melbourne Theatre Company. Here he had a chance to see, at close hand, the work of John Sumner, who led the country’s most successful subsidized theatre. John’s busy acting career included numerous TV and film roles including Deathcheaters (1976), One Night Stand (1984) and Voyage Into Fear (1993).  His acclaimed portrayal of President Wilson in PRESIDENT WILSON IN PARIS in the 1973 production was one of many at the original Nimrod Street Theatre.

By now, John had desires to direct plays himself. The opportunity came when he was invited in 1978 to Brisbane to act in the Queensland Theatre Company’s production of Simon Gray’s OTHERWISE ENGAGED. This was followed by THE CHERRY ORCHARD which he directed by default. After that, he was appointed the company’s resident director. His productions with the Queensland Theatre Company included THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER starring the inimitable Frank Thring. Other productions included SATURDAY SUNDAY MONDAY, BLITHE SPIRIT, THE FRONT PAGE, DEATHTRAP, GYPSY, GONE WITH HARDY, RICHARD III, BREAKER MORANT, CONFUSIONS, HABEAS CORPUS and BIG TOYS.

In 1982, he became artistic director of Marian Street Theatre on Sydney’s North Shore. It had been established in 1965 but was facing bankruptcy. The building, originally a soldiers’ Memorial Hall, was built on a sloping suburban block near Killara railway station which John turned into one of the city’s most vibrant little theatres. Under John’s guidance Marian Street became a theatre of opportunity for many young directors and actors.

Because he knew his audience and shared its taste, Marian Street began to achieve great success. He scored a personal success in 1988 in Hugh Whitemore’s BREAKING THE CODE. In 1989, he played the overbearing father of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning in THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET.

Having learnt savvy season programming techniques from Alan Edwards during his time at the Queensland Theatre Company, John always kept a surprise production under wraps. If he felt the season had been too experimental he announced a crowd pleaser, if it had been a great success he programmed a new work or new writing.

After 9 years, John left the theatre in 1990 with well over 5,000 subscribers and considerable cash in the bank. Subsequent managements lost the money and 5 years later Krummel was enticed back. This time, the theatre tapped the NSW government for support, and in a matching dollar for dollar program achieved donations and sponsorships securing Marian Street funded for 3 years.

John received a diagnosis in 1993 that he had duodenal cancer, doctors suggested he was not expected to survive.

Then John suffered a massive stroke in 1997. After he recovered somewhat – his right hand clawed, his speech seriously affected – he still managed to lead the theatre for 4 more years until 2001. His final production was Nick Enright’s A POOR STUDENT, written especially for him. His declining health made him step down and the role was played by Tony Sheldon. The severe physical incapacity from his stroke again doctors suggested he was not expected to survive.

In the Australia Day 2003 Honours List, John was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, for service to the arts, particularly through the Marian Street Theatre.

After a fall, he was taken to St Vincent’s hospital, where he died aged 79 on the afternoon of February 23, 2023.

He is survived by his sister Jane.

QTC Hall of Fame

credits on AusStage AusStage #2332
credits imdb
Order of Australia Australian Honours #1042725

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