6879028038543422938.png
Source: Mail (Adelaide) 16 January 1932, p.1
Kester Berwick i(19 works by) (birth name: Frank Gale Perkins)
Also writes as: Svetloff ; Kester Baruch
Born: Established: 3 Oct 1903 Adelaide, South Australia, ; Died: Ceased: 29 Jun 1992 Corfu, Greek islands,
c
Greece,
c
Western Europe, Europe,

Gender: Male
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BiographyHistory

Actor, dramatist, journalist, author and teacher.

OVERVIEW

Kester Berwick, also known as Frank Perkins and Kester Baruch, was a journalist, playwright, actor, author and teacher whose career in the arts in Australia was carried out between the mid-1920s and 1935, and again between 1940 and 1952. Although he completed several novels, only one, Head of Orpheus Singing (1973) has been published. As a theatre practitioner he (as Kester Baruch) and Alan Harkness were at the forefront of Australian experimental theatre during the early 1930s. Together they co-founded Ab-Intra Studio Theatre in Adelaide and set about producing works that included Japanese Noh theatre, original plays and dramatised poetry by Baruch, and plays by both little known and well-known international dramatists. While in England during the mid to late-1930s Baruch was a student and collaborator with Russian-American director/writer Michael Chekhov. Known professionally as Kester Berwick from 1939, he settled in Greece in the early 1960s and died in Gastouri, Corfu, in 1992.

His life is the subject of one of the major storylines in Robert Dessaix's novel Corfu : A Novel (2001).

DETAILED BIOGRAPHY

1903-1929: The son of Peter Perkins and Marion Jessie Perkins (nee Gale), Frank Perkins was born in the Adelaide suburb of Largs Bay. The youngest of three children, he developed an interest in ships and trains as a result of his wandering around the wharves and jetties of Port Adelaide during his childhood. He completed his education at a business college and during his late teens and early twenties spent time studying English and French. After starting his working life with an Adelaide advertising firm he secured a cub reporter position with the Mail, spending several years with the newspaper.

In the early 1920s Perkins joined the Theosophical Society and was later a prominent member of L'Alliance Francaise. While insights into Perkins' life and personality are rare, Thelma Afford provides a glimpse of the man in her 1988 Australasian Drama Studies article, 'Ab-Intra Studio Theatre in Adelaide 1931-35':

Kester Baruch (1903-) was dark-haired, of stocky build, a freelance journalist and writer. Adelaide-born, he became a reporter on the Mail and later moved to Sydney, where he changed his name from Frank Perkins in an attempt to find a less plebeian persona for articles such as 'Mass Art and Individualism,' published in May 1928 in Hugh McCrae and Ernest Watt's New Triad. Baruch returned to Adelaide not long before his meeting with [Alan] Harkness' (p.167).

Although no details relating to his time in Sydney have yet been located, Afford further records that Perkins/Baruch spent several years in the New South Wales capital, returning "in about 1930' (Dreamers and Visionaries, p.175). An article published in the Mail in February 1929 under the by-line Kester Baruch suggests that he already returned to his home town by then, however (see 'Theosophist Camp: Utopia at Bridgewater,' 23 February 1929, p.12).

Perkins appears to have initially used the name Kester Baruch for professional, writing, purposes. This becomes apparent in 1929 through his involvement with the L'Alliance Francaise society. In this respect a number of newspaper reports, naming him as Frank Perkins, indicate that he spoke fluent French, acted in dramatic sketches (see 'Social Notes.' News 2 Sept. 1929, 4), including a French-language adaptation of a scene from George Bernard Shaw's Candida (Adelaide Women's Club, 19 June), and delivered talks on a variety of subjects. At the society's Soiree in September, for example, he delivered a discourse on Swedish dramatist/novelist August Strindberg. Interestingly although he contributed several articles about the L'Alliance Francaise society to the Mail during the year, these were all written as Kester Baruch. The name Frank Perkins does not appear in any newspaper reports from 1930 onward (apart from his court appearance in 1942).

1930-1934: Baruch continued have articles published in the Mail throughout 1930, with most of these appearing in the 'Women's Realm' section. In July he directed the premiere production of the new play, The Veil, by Adelaide writer, Diana Landrow (Theosophical Hall, 2 July). Two months later, the third act from his own play The Counting Frame was presented at the same venue, with Landrow and Baruch among the four cast members (3 September).

It was around this period, and through the Theosophical Society, that Baruch likely met aspiring theatre designer and actor, Alan Harkness. The two men struck up a friendship that led to the founding of the Ab-Intra Studio Theatre the following year. Before this occurred, however, they collaborated on at least one production - an example of a Japanese Noh play staged at a L'Alliance Francaise soiree on 7 October. The piece was given the French title 'Quand le Flambeau du Pecheur s'est Eteint. Harkness and Baruch were assisted by local practitioners Allan Frances and Frank Willoughby.

Ab-Intra Studio Theatre made its debut on 23 December 1931 at its bohemian-style studio in North Terrace, presenting the Japanese Noh play, The Demon's Mask. The initial production was rehearsed, again, with the assistance of Francis and Willoughby. Adelaide's Mail newspaper records that the premiere was attended by a number of well-known Adelaide folk, including producers of the South Australian Repertory Theatre ('Modernist Cult,' p. 1). Critical responses to the company's first production were generally positive and supportive, despite the unusual nature of the work and its limited production values. In August 1932 the Mail published an article examining the rise of the little theatre movement in Adelaide. In a section focusing on Ab-Intra the writer pointed to the producers' effective use of masks:

Harkness and Baruch make practically all their own stage properties, which consist of masks and robes and curtains. Some remarkable effects have been obtained by this theatre in this manner ('Cult of the Little Theatre,' p.2).

Realising the need for a larger rehearsal and production space Baruch and Harkness moved their operations to new premises at 354 King William Street South in early 1932. Not long afterwards Ab-Intra attracted the attention of Dame Sybil Thorndyke during her visit to the city. The pair organised a private production of The Demon's Mask for Thorndyke's company in early 1932, and in return her producer rehearsed twice with the Ab-Intra actors on their next production, The Robe of Yama ('Actress Helps Ab-Intras,' p.7).

Over the next four years Baruch and Harkness established Ab-Intra as Adelaide's leading experimental theatre company drawing praise from many local critics. The productions ranged from works by well-known and little known international playwrights and composers, including Gordon Bottomly, Thornton Wilder, Claude Debussy, August Strindberg, Anton Chekhov, and Winifred Shaw. Original works were also contributed by Baruch. Among the other key people to have been associated with the company were Thelma Thomas (later Thelma Afford), Mina Bauer, Walter Dasborough, Iris Thomas, Agnes Dobson, Robert Helpmann, Joan Joske, and Phyllis Drummond.

1936-1939: In early 1935 Baruch and Harkness made the decision to close down Ab-Intra and travel overseas to further their theatrical experiences. The company's final production was Baruch's Archway Motif, staged in the ballroom of supporter Mrs J. Lavington Bonython (later Lady Bonython) over three days, 1-3 March. The following month the pair sailed for England, making stopovers in Italy and France. Between 1936 and 1938 Baruch and Harkness studied acting at Dartington Hall, Devon, with Michael Chekhov (a former student of Stanislavski). During his time with the famous Russian-American theatre practitioner he explored various aspects of theatre, including acting, directing, and stage design, and began collecting sources of folklore ('Brotherhood of Man,' p.3). While in England he also joined the Peace Pledge Mission.

When Chekhov moved his theatre company to America in 1938 Harkness travelled with him as assistant producer and eventually formed his own company High Valley Group in California. Baruch decided instead to remain in England. A short-while later, however, he travelled to Innsbruck, Austria to teach advanced English at the Folks High School. According to Thelma Afford 'he arrived just as Hitler annexed that country [and] Austrian friends advised him to change his name because of the Jewish connotations' (Dreamers and Visionaries, p.175). He subsequently became Kester Berwick.

This period in the lead-up to war was to have a marked impact on Berwick's future – not only in reinforcing his theosophical views in relation to conflict and humanity, but also in providing him with personal insight into Europe that allowed him to later contribute to the Australian public's knowledge of the crisis.

1940-1951: After arriving back in Adelaide in late-1939, Berwick found himself in demand as a public speaker – both on stage and on radio. His principal topics related to his time in Europe before the outbreak of war, his theatrical experiences in England, his knowledge of folklore and his philosophical views. The radio presentations in 1940, all broadcast by station 5CL, included 'Over the Frontier to Neutral Italy' (22 February), 'Philosophies' (31 July), 'War Came to Riviera' and 'Spring' (24 August), and 'Unofficial Ambassadors of Australia' (12 October). Berwick's stage lectures were delivered under the auspices of such organisations as the Red Cross and South Australian Ballet Club. 5CL continued to present his lectures over the next few years, broadcasting, for example, 'It's our Folklore' (13 September 1941), 'Questing Over Frontiers' (17 July 1942), and 'Three for Freedom' (14 October 1942).

Berwick's theatrical activity during the war years included saw assist a number of local organisations in producing theatrical works. In 1941, for example, the South Australian Ballet Club sought his help with its presentation of Pavane on the Death of an Infanta (to the music of Ravel). Berwick had seen the London production ("Arts Must Not Be Forgotten," Mail 8 November 1941, p.9). He directed Max Mell's The Apostle Play for King's College in 1942, and undertook similar duties for a two-act comedy by Dr E. Emmery which the L'Alliance Francaise society staged in 1945. The work had been translated into French by society member R. Levy. Berwick also directed plays at The Hut (now part of the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild), including Strindberg's The Stronger (August 1945), and at in 1946 he became involved in teaching drama and producing plays for the Adelaide branch of the Workers' Education Association (W.E.A.). He was also one of two full-time lectures employed by the newly formed Apollo Players to oversea a summer drama school (1946/1947).

It was to be Berwick's stance as a conscientious objector to war service that provided him with the biggest media coverage during his time back in Adelaide, however. This issue became public in August 1942 when, as' Frank Gale Perkins, 39, of Ralston Street, Largs Bay,' he was ordered to appear in court to justify his application to avoid military service. While several other men also appeared before the court, Berwick's celebrity status saw him draw the most interest from the press. Interestingly, in his testimony Perkins/Berwick claims that his primary income came from working on a dairy farm on the outskirts of Adelaide (see "Brother of man as War Objection," p.3.).

Berwick's association with Workers' Education Association led to him leaving Adelaide in 1948 for New South Wales. Over the next four years he was engaged by the Sydney and Newcastle branches of the W.E.A. as a drama/theatre lecturer and production director. An article published in the Newcastle Sun in 1953 records that he was the first drama lecturer to be employed by the Newcastle branch (3 December 1953, p.27). Thelma Afford notes, too, that the Newcastle productions he directed for the W.E.A. included Cradle Song and Martine (Dreamers and Visionaries, p.175). During this period Berwick also published his theatre manual, Becoming an Actor: A Practical Approach with Studies and Exercises (1949). After concluding his W.E.A. commitments in late-1951, he went back to England, returning home only on two brief occasions before his death.

1952-1992: While little is known of Berwick's time in the England during the early 1950s, the fact that he his play That Day of the Speaking Leaves was produced in London in March 1955 suggests that he was still largely involved in the theatre. By the end of the decade however, he had secured work with London City Council and the British Council, teaching at their many institutes, including the noted Holborn Literary Institute. Thelma Afford writes of his latter life in Dreamers and Visionaries, noting that Berwick moved to Greece in the early 1960s to teach English language and customs to boys selected by the Royal Foundation of Greece to attend agricultural courses in England. He also secured employment with the Inter-Government Committee for European Migration. Afford writes further:

The Australian writer Betty Roland (nee Davies) spent some time on the island of Lesbos staying with Kester, who was an old friend. She recorded her account of this visit in Lesbos, the Pagan Island (Cheshire, Melbourne, 1963). Kester came back to Sydney in 1964 on the liner 'Patris' as one of two escort officers in charge of one hundred Greek emigrants, returning to Greece within a few weeks. He visited Adelaide when on a trip to Australia in 1971 and was quite overawed by the spaciousness, equipment and labyrinthine organisation of the Festival Theatre and could not help comparing it with the basic facilities of the old Ab Intra. In 1973, when he was seventy, Sydney publisher Angus and Robertson released Berwick's Head of Orpheus Singing. Also set on Lesbos, this novel tells of the simple life of the islanders, to whom the book is dedicated (p.176).

In all Berwick spent more than thirty years of his life in Greece. He died in Gastouri, Corfu in 1992, having lived in near poverty for several years. He was nevertheless treated with much respect by the locals. His company was also sought by visitors, especially those with an involvement in the arts. English author and garden designer, Mirabel Osler, recalls meeting Berwick in her memoir The Rain Tree (2011). In part she writes:

Kester had arrived in Gastouri in 1968 from Lesbos… a gentle recluse, grateful for a meal and the use of our bath, Kester had given Tamsin guitar lessons, and we had given a party for him and all his friends when his book. Head of Orpheus Singing had been published…. Kester lived on a meagre pension in a shabby house in the middle of the village. Here with great ingenuity, he contrived gadgetry from his bits of detritus to make life easier. With no bathroom, his shower was a cold trickle through holes punched in the bottom of a plastic bleach bottle – attached to a hose from the sink – which he's suspended on a clothes -hanger from the ceiling of his stone-flagged kitchen. His baromter was one of Tamsin's long hairs fastened to a feather that moved across his chart, as it lengthened or shrank, according to the moisture in the air. His home-made harpsichord, made from a packing case, played barely audible, whispery music as long as the cicadas outside weren't too loud… he was always welcoming and warm and the villagers loved him (204-205).

Notes

  • Perkins was inspired to take the name "Baruch" from Baruch ben Neriah (meaning "Blessed, son of My Candle is God" in Hebrew), a sixth century B.C. scribe, disciple, and devoted friend of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah. Baruch ben Neriah is traditionally credited with authoring the deuterocanonical Book of Baruch.

  • Research into Berwick's association with the W.E.A. has located an advertisement in the Adelaide Advertiser publicising Berwick's specially-devised course 'Preparation for the Theatre.' The location given was Studio 4, Gawler (24 February 1945, p.10). Almost exactly a year later he was identified as one of three theatre lecturers employed by the W.E.A. The others were Colin Ballantyne and Charles Gordon (Advertiser 4 February 1946, 6).

  • The State Library of New South Wales holds the manuscripts of two unpublished novels by Berwick, 'Flow on Aroona: To School with Young Actors' and 'Harps in the Wind: A Novel of the Aegean'. These are held in the 'Robert Dessaix Papers 1932-2007' collection relating to the novel Corfu (MLMSS 7925).

  • Although Berwick authored more than a dozen plays, most of which were staged, none have ever been published.

  • See Kester Baruch entry for a list of newspaper articles written and published under that name.

  • This biography and research in the works of Kester Baruch/Berwick has been contributed by Dr Clay Djubal as part of a digital archive and educational program research grant (2015-2016) awarded to Kerry Kilner (UQ Research Fellow, School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland). Funding for this grant was made available by The Ian Potter Foundation.

    AustLit would also like to acknowledge Thelma Afford's two publications 'Ab-Intra Studio Theatre in Adelaide 1931-35' (1988) and Dreamers and Visionaries : Adelaide's Little Theatres From the 1920s to the Early 1940s (2004), as being significant resources for this research.

Last amended 28 Nov 2016 08:43:46
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