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Robin Casper Lovejoy (1923–1985)

by Robert Holden

This article was published:

Robin Casper Lovejoy  (1923-1985), actor, theatre designer and artistic director, was born on 17 December 1923 at Labasa, Fiji, son of Casper Ebenezer Lovejoy, manager, and his wife Viti, née Clark.  Robin was educated at Suva Boys’ Grammar School.  After he moved to Australia in 1939 he worked as an audit clerk.  Volunteering in August 1942 for the Australian Imperial Force, he served as a bombardier with the coastal artillery in Sydney and in the Torres Strait, where he started play readings to entertain the troops.  He was discharged in Sydney in June 1946.  Aided by the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, he studied (1946-49) interior design at the East Sydney Technical College.  During this time he joined May Hollinworth’s Metropolitan Players, initially as a repertory actor.  Among the dozen productions that he later designed for them, none was more significant than the world première of Douglas Stewart’s Shipwreck in 1949.

This commission almost certainly influenced the choice of Lovejoy as the costume designer for the world première of the ballet Corroboree at the Empire Theatre in 1950.  In his professional début as a ballet designer he produced almost fifty costumes, masks and accessories for the National Theatre Ballet Company.  The masks disguised the fact that the majority of the dancers, in a traditionally all-male ceremony, were women.  His designs were praised for their 'genuine dramatic value' and were a continuation of the efforts made by artists such as Margaret Preston to incorporate Aboriginal design into Western culture.  Lovejoy was inspired by the vignette illustrations that the composer, John Antill, scattered throughout his holograph score.  They, in turn, borrowed from the monographs on Aboriginal anthropology by Sir Baldwin Spencer and Francis Gillen.

After illness forced Hollinworth’s withdrawal from the Players in 1950, Lovejoy made his début as a director and continued with them until 1952.  His parting effort, The House of Bernarda Alba, was praised as 'one of the most beautiful productions ever seen on a Sydney stage'.  Lovejoy’s inclusion among Australian stage designers represented in a major exhibition at David Jones’ Art Gallery, Sydney, in 1953 accorded him a place with such contemporaries as Desmonde Downing, Elaine Haxton and Louis Kahan.  That year the International Theatre Institute awarded Lovejoy a travelling fellowship.  After seventeen months he returned to the New South Wales Opera Company, where he had worked in 1953, but he resigned after five productions.  In 1955 he joined the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, winning production and design awards for The Rivals in 1956.  He married English-born Patricia Lucy Hughes on 14 January 1957 at St Augustine’s Church of England, Neutral Bay.

One of Lovejoy’s early triumphs for the Elizabethan Theatre Trust Opera Company (Opera Australia) was successfully directing a production of Peter Grimes in 1958.  Next year he founded the Trust Players and directed many of their productions, including the premières of Peter Kenna’s The Slaughter of St. Teresa’s Day and Anthony Coburn’s The Bastard Country.  His finale with them was the first professional production of Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year.  In 1961 he was awarded a Harkness Fellowship to study in the United States of America.  Next year he directed La Bohème for the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, London, and The Rivals for the Dallas Theater Center, USA.

Returning to the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Lovejoy took charge (from 1964) of the development of Australian plays.  The Old Tote Theatre Company, Sydney, also employed him, as co-director (1965-69) and director (1969-74).  He was credited with consistently producing the 'best professional drama in Australia'.  In 1973 he directed the Old Tote’s production of Richard II, which opened the drama theatre of the Sydney Opera House, and the première of David Williamson’s play What If You Died Tomorrow?  The following year, when he took his production of Williamson’s play to London, it was the first complete Australian production staged there since Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1957.  He was appointed OBE in 1974.

During the 1970s and early 1980s Lovejoy worked with the Victoria State Opera and the Queensland Theatre Company.  A director (1977-85) of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, he also served (1982-85) as head of the directing and design courses for the National Institute of Dramatic Art.  His long, distinguished career as a professional director encompassed classical and modern plays and opera.  Survived by his staunchly supportive wife and their two daughters, he died of cancer on 14 December 1985 at his home at Mosman and was cremated.  Contemporaries testified to his mercurial nature.  The actor Leonard Teale recalled:  'He was a man totally concerned with the pursuit of excellence'; he 'had no time for mediocrity'.  Frank van Straten considered that 'Lovejoy was a genius of the theatre . . . demanding, fiery, often impatient and tyrannical . . . [but] he could be angelically patient, coaxing magic from [the] unplumbed depths of an actor’s art'.  An obituary in the Australian that compared him to Shakespeare’s Prospero—the ultimate stage-manager weaving his magic—paid him an apt and poignant tribute.

Select Bibliography

  • Metropolitan (Sydney), 28 April 1948, p 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 July 1950, p 5
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 1952, p 8
  • Masque (Sydney), September 1967, p 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 December 1985, p 11
  • Australian, 16 December 1985, p 10
  • Stages (Magazine of the Victorian Arts Centre), September 1993, p 34
  • Australian Book Review, April 2004, p 61
  • H. de Berg, interview with R. Lovejoy (ts, 1972, National Library of Australia)
  • Lovejoy papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robert Holden, 'Lovejoy, Robin Casper (1923–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robin Lovejoy, 1952?

Robin Lovejoy, 1952?

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3071360

Life Summary [details]


17 December, 1923
Labasa, Fiji


14 December, 1985 (aged 61)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (liver)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.