Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jasan Savage

                                            21 March 1937 - 26 February 2014

The Canberra theatre scene has lost a real character with the passing of actor and director Jasan Savage.

While his earlier years remain something of a mystery he certainly established a stage presence in this town from the early 90s onwards.

His range of acting roles included Chekov, Stoppard, Shakespeare, Michael Gow. He had a one man Henry Lawson show (The Bastard From the Bush) in his repertoire.  His performances included work with Canberra Repertory, the ANU Drama Department’s Papermoon, Everyman Theatre and Free Rain Theatre.

He became a stalwart of The Players Company/UC Players, directing many shows in less than ideal conditions in various changing and challenging University of Canberra venues, grumbling about those conditions but often coming up with funny, brisk productions of favorites such as Fawlty Towers and Dad’s Army and Ab Fab, geared for restaurant theatre. Occasionally it would be a classic, like Private Lives or Hobson’s Choice. Or he would sidle up to you in a foyer and announce gloomily ‘I’m doing Vampire Lesbians of Sodom….’ in the hope that you might be shocked. (He did the show. 2001.)

He informed Cherry Orchard director Geoffrey Borny that at a first reading he thought the play ‘was one of the most boring he had ever come across’. Borny says that ‘later he would often say that the experience of playing Gaev was one of the highlights of his Canberra acting career.’

Perhaps it was this that prompted him to direct a Players/UC dinner show which was billed as Chekhov’s Funniest, a collection of short Chekhov plays which went down so well the Canberra Critics Circle gave it an award for 2005.

With a beady eye, a raspy voice and a truculent presence he could do menace in Breaker Morant’s military courtroom scenes (Everyman Theatre 2012) or the streetwise copper that is Sam Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s Men At Arms (Canberra Rep Fringe 1998) but he could also do something as gentle as Jim the Gardener in Humble Boy (Canberra Rep 2011).

Jasan’s theatrical stories were tall and his foyer gossip usually started with how terrible the play/casting/lighting was and you never knew what to believe. But long time stage manager Joyce Gore reports him turning up to the first rehearsal of shows like Canberra Rep’s Noises Off (1995) with his lines down.

Wherever he got his theatrical skills Canberra theatre was the richer for his presence.    

Alanna Maclean

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