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Hackett, Patricia (1908–1963)

by Jo Peoples

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Patricia Hackett (1908-1963), theatrical producer, actress and lawyer, was born on 25 January 1908 in Perth, second of five children of (Sir) John Winthrop Hackett (d.1916), newspaper proprietor, and his wife Deborah Vernon, née Drake-Brockman. In 1918 Deborah remarried and the family moved to Adelaide. Educated in 1919-22 at Church of England Girls' Grammar School (The Hermitage), Geelong, Victoria, and for two months in 1923 at Woodlands Church of England Girls' Grammar School, Adelaide, Patricia matriculated by private study in 1924. Next year she passed two subjects towards a law degree at the University of Adelaide, but was dismissed for sitting her sister's Latin examination. In 1927 Patricia went to London where she passed her final examination in law in 1929. Called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1930 and admitted to the South Australian Bar that year, she practised in Adelaide; Don Dunstan was to share her chambers from 1952.

In 1932 Hackett made her theatrical début in the Repertory Theatre's production of Ashley Dukes's The Man with a Load of Mischief. Two years later she opened her own 150-seat theatre, the Torch, in the basement of Claridge Arcade, Gawler Place, where she chose the cast, directed and starred in an eccentric repertoire. In September 1934, when the critic Sidney Downer panned her staging of Geza Silberer's Caprice, she threw a bottle of ink over him; he sued and she was fined. Hackett revisited England in 1936. She published a book of verse, These Little Things (Adelaide, 1938). For up to four months each year until the Japanese invasion in 1942, she stayed in the Solomon Islands; during World War II she raised her sister Verna's son and two daughters in a home at Hackney that Patricia owned with her companion Dr Mildred Mocatta.

Between 1942 and 1948 Hackett was involved in plays for the university's Theatre Guild at The Hut. In 1944 Max Harris reviewed her performance in Gild the Mask Again: 'We have now seen Miss Hackett as a Biblical dame, Virgin Mary, a Moon Woman, Salome, a Grey Sword, Queen Elizabeth, and a Renaissance wife. It only remains for her to play a Life of Stalin, Diaghilev and Little Nell. Let the Theatre Guild forget the panther passions of the Hackett demi-monde . . . more stress on Theatre and less on Art'. Hackett threatened a libel action. Harris apologized publicly. Thereafter, with one exception, critics were banned from her second Torch Theatre, in the cellar of her Hackney house.

Adelaide's first salon theatre, the new Torch, opened in 1953 with Christopher Fry's A Phoenix Too Frequent. Hackett presented 'short seasons of her exotic and dramatically intense, if antiquated, repertoire', essaying each leading role, producing, and usually making costumes and props. Dunstan and Charles Jury were among the actors. Tall and slim, with long dark hair, Hackett had expressive eyes, a patrician nose and a richly modulated voice. She was an actress of 'remarkable purity', although her performances were occasionally marred by pretentiousness. By nature she was generous, witty, flamboyant, temperamental, outspoken and fiery. Her drive and energy were astonishing.

Hackett's last play, Legend, comprised much of her verse and was performed as a fringe production during Adelaide's inaugural Festival of Arts (1960). She died of coronary thrombosis on 18 August 1963 at Hackney and was cremated. In 1965 the University of Western Australia established the Patricia Hackett prize, awarded annually for the best creative writing published in Westerly magazine.

Select Bibliography

  • On Dit, 30 June, 19 July 1944
  • Westerly, May 1965
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 Sept 1934
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 Mar 1963
  • C. Ballantyne, A Profile of Miss Patricia Hackett and P. Goers, Patricia Hackett (1984, both manuscripts are held in the Performing Arts Collection of South Australia, Theatre Museum, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jo Peoples, 'Hackett, Patricia (1908–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hackett-patricia-10385/text18399, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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