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Wilfrid Neill (d. 1949)
Scrapbooks (2 vols.) 1907-1930

MSS 0161

Biographical Note

Wilfrid Neill

Wilfrid NeillWilfrid Roy Neill was educated at St Peter’s College. He worked for the Adelaide Steamship Co. for many years, retiring in 1946(?). He served abroad with the 1st AIF for three years (WW I or II?) during which he contracted an illness which severely impaired his health for some years. He died on 9 March 1949.

He was a founding member and sat on the Administrative Board of the Adelaide Literary Theatre (later the Adelaide Repertory Theatre) and contributed much to the development of the repertory movement, playing leading roles in many of the earlier productions. He was also a good pianist and singer and an athlete.

The Adelaide Literary Theatre / Adelaide Repertory Theatre

The Adelaide Repertory Theatre is the oldest surviving amateur theatre company in the Southern Hemisphere. From humble beginnings in piano teacher/composer Bryceson Treharne's classroom in the Elder Conservatorium, the organization now known as The Adelaide Repertory Theatre began in 1908. Treharne's students met to read and discuss plays, and to learn of the exciting European modern drama movements of the day. After six months, they decided to stage W.B. Yeats' Land of Heart’s Desire and George Bernard Shaw's A Man of Destiny in the North Hall at the Elder Conservatorium, calling their fledgling company The Adelaide Literary Theatre, a name which was to remain for six years. Interest and curiosity from most of the audience inspired the class to stage further productions. The season was a crowd pleaser and more of Adelaide's amateur players came to join the group. Residents of Adelaide, realising the value of the project, offered to pay subscriptions to see more plays.

During 1909 and the following year, performances moved between Walkerville and Unley Town Halls. Over five hundred subscribers each paid five shillings per year for two tickets to each of the year’s productions. Realising the company was in competent hands, Bryceson Treharne returned to Paris. The company prospered, and at the beginning of 1914, changed its name to The Adelaide Repertory Theatre. Every six weeks a new play was presented, but the First World War and a drought took their toll on both subscribers and players.

In 1917, an orchestra was hired to play between acts as The Rep struggled to maintain support and was trying anything to lure patrons. In 1919, Finlayson retired, for reasons of ill-health, to be replaced by South Australian born, Talbot Smith, whose tertiary education was at Cambridge University, England.

Adapted from The Adelaide Repertory Theatre’s ‘A proud history’

The Lone Hand, August 1, 1913
is available from the Universtiy of Adelaide D-Space Digital Library

Adelaide Literary Theatre programme, 1910 is available from the Universtiy of Adelaide D-Space Digital Library

The scrapbooks were donated to the Barr Smith Library by Wilfrid Neill's great-niece, Bebe Saunders, in 2012 and 2013.

Contents Listing

The scrapbooks cover performances of the Adelaide Literary Theatre from 1908 to 1913, and the Adelaide Repertory Theatre from 1914 to 1930. Items include programmes, reviews, cuttings from newspapers and magazines such as The Lone Hand featuring photographs of performers, along with numerous newspaper cuttings and letters to the editor re the repertory theatre movement. It represents not only the history of an important Adelaide theatre group but also reflects the participation of a keen amateur actor, director and playwright in Adelaide during the early 20th century.

The scrapbooks also include additional programmes for performances by other groups, many starring and directed by Mr Neill, including:

  • The Adelaide University Shakespeare Society, Hamlet recital, 4/11/1909 (Wilfrid Neill as Hamlet)
  • The Appendreena Amateur Theatre Club’s , The Idler, Dandy Dick, The Tyranny of Tears, John Glayde’s Honour, Cousin Kate, His Excellency The Governor, Mrs Gorringe’s Necklace, The Builder of Bridges
  • Port Adelaide Orpheus Society’s Grand Concert, 17/7/1907 (Neill as elocutionist)
  • Lyric Club, concert and ‘The Money Spider’, 9/11/[1910] (Neill as John Wilkinson)
  • Adelaide Dramatic Club, Scenes from Macbeth and ‘A Web of Steel’ (one-act play by Wilfrid Neill),1/2/[before 1911]
  • Lyric Club, Hamlet, 27/6/[no year] (programme arranged by Neill)
  • Adelaide University Shakespeare Society, Hamlet, 7/11/[no year] (Neill as Hamlet)
  • The Austral Musical and Elocutionary Competitions, Parkside and Eastwood Institute, 21-25 September 1914 (Neil was adjudicator for elocutionary items)
  • Adelaide Varsity Student’s Concert, Exhibition Building , 5/12/[1913], Exhibition Hall
  • Lady Windermere’s Fan, 24-25 April 1913, Central Hall, Adelaide, in aid of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and a summer hospital for infants (Neill as Lord Windermere)
  • Adelaide University Shakespeare Society, 2/11/1911, Institute Building North Tce (Neill as Anthony and Hamlet)
  • The South Australian Operatic Society, A Runaway Girl, 1930
  • The Playbox Theatre Sydney, Knock, 1925
  • Scotch College Repertory Theatre Club, The Cassilis Engagement, Mitcham SA, 1923
  • South Australian Grand Opera Co. Concert, Christmas 1924

Items of particular interest include

  • A ms letter from Arthur H. Adams, editor of The Bulletin’s Red page, to Neill 28 May 1912, asking Neill to provide advice and evidence from his experience in Adelaide to support the establishment of a small repertory theatre in Sydney in conjunction with the proposed Academy of Fine Arts. Also newspaper cuttings re Adams praise if the Adelaide Literary Theatre and programme and reviews of Adams’ play ‘The Wasters’ starring and directed by Neill
  • Adelaide Literary Theatre programmes for 1910 with a 2 page article by ‘The Literary Theatre and its critics: a reply’ by Bryceson Treharne
  • Cuttings of production of The New Sin for the grand re-opening of the Theatre Royal, 1915
  • Notice of a meeting of the Adelaide Literary Theatre Board of Management 24/10/1912
  • Lists of plays performed by the Adelaide Literary Theatre
  • Carbon copy of a types speech from The Corsican for Neill, and 'The Money Spider opening effects'
  • Copy of Certificate of Incorporation of Association for The Adelaide Repertory Theatre 9/2/1925; a copy of the rules of The Adelaide Repertory Theatre; typescript Memorandum of meeting 16/2/1926
  • Opinion of the British Drama League's solicitor on 'Is a play reading a performance', typescript signed E.J. MacGillivray 8/12/1924
  • Caricatures of Adelaide Repertory Theatre members from newspapers
  • Notices of monthly Repertory Theatre Club lecture evenings 1924-25
  • Neill's Chairman's remarks 1924
  • Adelaide Repertory Theatre Treasurer's report 1924
  • Adelaide Repertory Theatre statement of receipts & expenditure for The Melting Pot season 1925, and Magda 1926
  • Script for 'Heard on a Railway Journey: a sketch' with ms annotations (Neill's copy)
  • Adelaide Repertory Theatre financial statement 1926
  • Booklet 'The Sydney Repertory Theatre Society: its history and significance' / S. Eliott Napier [1924]
  • Issue of The Repertorian, vol. 1 no. 1 (Melbourne, Sept. 16, 1916) with an article by the Adelaide Repertory Theatre by Neill and a poem on 'The Plays of Swinburne' by Archibald Strong.

Cheryl Hoskin
August 2012, updated 2013



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