John Walton as Hamlet in MTC's 1980 production. Photo by David Parker.

Vale John Walton

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It is with sadness that we reflect on the recent passing of respected Australian actor John Walton, aged just 62 years, following a long illness.

Best known for his role as Doctor Craig Rothwell in the television soap opera The Young Doctors in the late seventies, John would be remembered by MTC Subscribers for his performances in various productions, including Hamlet (1979, 1980), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1979, 1980) The Cherry Orchard (1980), and The Club (1977). He also appeared in Medea (1996), Macbeth (1996), and Antony and Cleopatra (1992) for Sydney Theatre Company; Pericles (1995) and Twelfth Night (1995) for Bell Shakespeare; and the national tour of South Pacific for the Gordon Frost company (1993-1994), amongst others.

John was remembered by family, friends, and industry colleagues at a memorial in Sydney on Saturday 19 July, during which fellow actor and friend Robert Alexander delivered a moving tribute. We include it below, with permission.

———

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable,
in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!
the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. (Hamlet. II ii 303)

It is wonderful to think of John saying these words of Hamlet. In many ways John was the perfect man to play this greatest of Shakespeare’s characters – athletic, philosophic, impish, impulsive and melancholic. John’s beauty, both physical, and of soul, must have been great attributes for his creation of Hamlet’s character, while the awful core of John’s condition added a nameless melancholy that we all felt but could not reach.

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic; nor the lady’s, which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all of these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, which, by often rumination, wraps me in a most humorous sadness. (As You Like It. IV i 11-21)

There was a humorous sadness in John and it was magnetic. We were in a Nimrod production of As You Like It, from which these words of Jaques come. John played Orlando with a boyish energy that was a little like a six month old golden retriever. He was wildly happy, bounding about the stage and this mood carried over after the show and into the foyer where we drank far too many beers together. When the bar finally closed, John would somehow squeeze into my Fiat 500 and we would bounce up the gravel drive. At the top, when we reached Belvoir Street, I would pause to ask the question, “left or right?”. Left meant I would drive him to his bus stop at Wynyard or right meant we would go on drinking. His answer was very much more often right than left.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (The Tempest. IV I 148)

John was a great giggler and in two other productions at Nimrod, Much Ado About Nothing and Richard III there were many opportunities for this to happen. John played Hastings in Richard III, who is decapitated quite early in the play and we both found ourselves in monks costume, deep at our prayers, standing behind John Bell playing Richard. In the scene, Richard was reluctantly refusing the crown offered by Tony Llewellyn-Jones as Buckingham. Tony had two henchmen, one of whom, Peter Fisher, was wearing an airmans’ leather flying helmet with droopy bits hanging down either side of his face. I foolishly said to John Walton just as we went on, “take a look at Peter Fisher – he looks like Pluto!” and thereby caused my own undoing: John became helpless with giggles, tears sliding down his face, and consequently, so did I. We hid in our cowls, shaking with laughter. Even Richard III turned around, smiling, to see what was wrong with us.

The laughter, affection, warmth, the generosity of spirit, the bone breaking hugs that he gave and the carefree quality that one often felt in John’s company, defied the kernel of sadness that was only infrequently and privately evident. What a rare and wonderful man – what courage.

If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come- the readiness is all. (Hamlet. V ii 219)

Goodnight sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. (V ii 372)

by Robert Alexander
15 July 2014

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