Loudon Sainthill’s “Antipodean” Vision for Michael Benthall’s Tempest

Taylor, James (2020). Loudon Sainthill’s “Antipodean” Vision for Michael Benthall’s Tempest. Shakespeare, 16(1) pp. 68–79.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17450918.2020.1712464

Abstract

This article discusses the Australian artist Loudon Sainthill’s stage and costume designs for Michael Benthall’s Shakespeare Memorial Theatre production of The Tempest (1951, 1952). Calling upon a variety of performance documents, it considers what Sainthill’s work reveals about the hierarchical cultural relationship between Britain and its former colony at the time. At first glance, the acclaimed designer appears the ultimate cultural insider, a gifted cosmopolitan artist who successfully navigated his way from Tasmania to the summit of the British theatre industry. On closer examination, however, there is evidence that despite his apparently conciliatory approach, Sainthill’s complex visual style expressed the anxieties of Britain’s post-war transition from Empire to Commonwealth. Sainthill’s early career in the UK was shaped by theatrical-imperial networks intent on strengthening Commonwealth ties, and his fantasy-inflected settler-modernist style transplanted to Britain especially well during a period when the metropolis sought to imagine new post-imperial futures for itself. The surreal quality of Sainthill’s “antipodean” vision corresponded with increasingly ambivalent attitudes towards Britain’s imperial status, complicating its intended celebration of Britain’s post-war cultural renewal during the significant commemorative event of the Festival of Britain.

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