2 August 2005

Music, comedy and history will coalesce at Customs House at 11am on Sunday, August 21 with a tribute to vaudeville comedians Stiffy and Mo – and the music hall culture in which they thrived.

What Oh Tonight, a free University of Queensland performance during Seniors Week, was inspired by a PhD thesis in English and the re-emergence of the Nat Phillips Collection of vaudeville scripts and papers dating from 1910.

The University’s Fryer Library had held the collection in its original state for more than 30 years when School of Music course convenor Clay Djubal’s PhD research highlighted its value.

He has since catalogued the whole collection, which includes several full-length scripts – a rarity from an era when copying was costly and only relevant excerpts were doled out to performers.

What Oh Tonight, supported by the University and the Friends of Fryer, will include music by School of Music students and vaudeville sketches performed by Mr Djubal, his PhD supervisor Associate Professor Richard Fotheringham (Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts) and UQ graduate Steve Hadden (a television sports presenter and former stand-up comedian).

Mr Djubal will also give an illustrated talk about Nat Phillips, creator of Stiffy and Mo.

Phillips was already well-known as a variety performer overseas and a writer and director of farces in Australia before he joined Roy “Mo” Rene in the comedy duo. It dominated stages in Australia and New Zealand between 1916 and 1928, and at the same time Phillips established himself as the country’s leading pantomime writer and director.

However, public memories of his success faded due to his premature death in 1932 and Rene’s transition to a successful radio career.

“They were outstanding figures in a wonderful, big theatre industry which was as competitive and demanding in Australia as anywhere else in the world,” Mr Djubal said.

“Yet many of the details of Phillips’ life remain to be told.

“The Fryer Library’s collection presents a wealth of evidence to add to the story of Stiffy and Mo. And in particular, the career significance of Nat Phillips can be rewritten.”

Tickets to the August 21 performance of What Oh Tonight: Stiffy and Mo and the Nat Philips Collection – a celebration in song, comedy and history are limited. For bookings, contact Helen Bourke at the University of Queensland (telephone 3365 1596, email h.bourke@uq.edu.au).

Media: Clay Djubal (telephone 3346 9897), Dr Richard Fotheringham (telephone 3365 51822) or Moya Pennell (UQ Communications, telephone 3365 2846).