Captain Midnight V.C.

April 17th, 1974 — May 18th, 1974


La Boite Theatre, Brisbane


Brisbane Repertory Theatre


Lindsay Smith


Jack Hibberd


Lorraine Milne


Jann Alcorn
Mark Bayley
Eileen Beatson
Anne Brown
Pamela Carney
Peter Copeman
John Devaney
Peta Gottschalk
Jane Hart
Peter Head
Ian Henry
Marion Kluver
Paul Thomas
Sue Parker
John Lee
Pauline Walsh
Robyn Warwick
Cedric Williams
Michael Williams
David Moore
Michael Leemann

Costume Designer

Ted Heald
Lloyd Nickson

Set Designer

Ted Heald
Lloyd Nickson



An Australian Council for the Arts grant of $900 brought Lindsay Smith from the Australian Performing Group (APG) to Brisbane to direct Jack Hibberd’s Captain Midnight V.C for La Boite.

It turned out to be the most controversial production in the 1974 season. Directed by guest director Lindsay Smith, Blocksidge described it as “a production that provoked violently opposed comment ‘shocking waste of good talent’ was one, and ‘the most exciting theatre in years’ was another”.[ii] Theatre critic David Rowbotham from The Courier-Mail did not like it. Under a headline reading “Play’s Virtue It’s Short”, he wrote “the kid-actors who pour their energies into political pudding plays like this one, simply have no experience of the complexities they are tackling”.[iii] On the other hand, Bruce Campbell of the Nation Review commented: “Lindsay Smith has done a remarkable job fashioning a rough amateur cast into a sparkling, rough ensemble … It is provocative and stimulating”.[iv] Whilst it did well at the box office, Blocksidge was more interested in the new aesthetic that Lindsay Smith brought to the theatre:

Two things about the production stood out for me. The first was the use made of the shape and the spaces of the theatre; the second was Lindsay’s idea of Open Rehearsals where the audience became involved in discussion with the actors. As you are all probably aware – closer audience/actor contact is a particular aim of mine, and I was delighted with Lindsay’s idea. I noticed also while overseas recently, that at many theatres discussions with audiences are part of the regular program.[v]

It was her embracing of innovation and experimentation that contributed to La Boite’s growing reputation as the place to go for the most exciting and risky theatre in Brisbane.

Writer: Dr Christine Comans

Note: Distinguished literary figure David Rowbotham is best known for his impressive contribution to Australian poetry. He was The Courier-Mail's literary and theatre critic between1955 and 1964. In 1970 he was appointed its inaugural arts and literary editor and in 1980 its literary editor and chief theatre critic. He retired from journalism in 1987. Known for his sharply worded theatre reviews, his many articles on the arts and literature stimulated interest and growth in the arts sector in Queensland.

[ii] 1974 Director’s Report.

[iii] The Courier-Mail April 18, 1974.

[iv] Nation Review 3-9 May 1974.

[v] 1974 Director’s Report.


Tell us your story

I heard that a significant milestone had been achieved by La Boite theatre in Brisbane in 2015. I felt that I made some contribution to La Boite, specifically in 1974, so I thought that I would share my story. I was involved in the 1974 production of Captain Midnight VC at La BoƮte. I played guitar in the Red Gum Trio, the musical section of the production which took place in the 'theatre in the round' which had been constructed a couple of years previously. When I read the analysis in the link last year at it brought back general and specific memories of the production and the people who contributed to it. I recall that the play seemed to be a work in progress at the time. I say this for two reasons. First, when playwright Jack Hibberd attended on closing night, I recall him commenting after the performance that he thought that the play was coming along very well. I think that it might have become a motion picture some years later. Another reason why I make this comment is that on the night after David Rowbotham's scathing review of the play in the Courier-Mail, the audience, obviously reduced in number by that review, consisted of maybe a dozen people, and the director, Lindsay Smith, on secondment from Melbourne's Pram Factory, decided on the spot to take a risk by turning that performance into a workshop in which the audience became willingly involved. I believe that that was a success from the audience's point of view. The production of Captain Midnight VC went for five or six weeks from April to May 1974, playing (from memory) for three nights per week from Wednesday to Friday with a final Saturday performance. It seemed to me that, with maybe a couple of exceptions, most of the actors saw themselves as being involved in a strictly amateur capacity. I thought that the Director, Lindsay Smith, who to me seemed to be a seasoned professional, worked very well with this restriction. Before one rehearsal, maybe mid way through the season, however, he started to lay down the law, even mentioning the word 'discipline', which seemed such an old fashioned term in those laissez-faire days, particularly when it was used by a 'counter culture' type of director (which Lindsay Smith clearly was). In those days, it seemed fairly simple to characterise the notion of discipline as somehow 'right wing'. I was part of the Red Gum Trio (actually there were only two of us) and on one occasion after the David Rowbotham review, I turned up late for a rehearsal, as my weekly guitar lesson had been delayed that night, I was admonished by the director even though I was not indispensable to the production (being a musician in the context of the show). Towards the end of the production, several cast members fell into the trap of changing what was rehearsed and what was in the script. This didn't work and led to several embarrassing moments, though of course the show went on. Regarding the people involved in the production, I particularly recall Peter Copeman, the assistant director, as an enthusiastic young man of around my vintage, whom I reckoned would go a long way. I generally hate using the term 'passionate' when referring to people's choice of profession, though I remember Peter saying on several occasions that he absolutely loved theatre. So it would not be hard to imagine him saying that he was "passionate" about "theatre". At a party after one performance, Peter wanted to interest others in creating original scripts and music, though in the end nothing seemed to come of that. At the time, I was very interested in the creative music side of musical theatre - I had, as a 15-year-old seen the Australian version of Hair in Sydney in August 1970 and I was impressed with the rock music backing in that show. I am quite certain that Peter himself was responsible for the term 'paranoid' being written as an afterthought on the published advertisement for the show. This edited version of the original poster appears on the La Boite website as the official poster for the play. I had originally approached La Boite in early 1974 after being referred to the group by Alan Edwards from SGIO Theatre - my mother had made enquiries and I had an interview with Mr Edwards who referred me to apply to be part of the upcoming production of Captain Midnight VC. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Lindsay Smith did an exceptional job. I personally feel privileged to have contributed as an amateur at La Boite in the 1970s (even if my surname was mis-spelled in the programme). Kind regards Michael Leeman 0400 406 002 07 3378 0255

Michael Leeman