The Comedy of Eras
16 Aug 2022
In 2021, Bell Shakespeare received an incredibly generous gift in the form of a bequest from the late Liz Roberts. This came as something of a surprise as Liz had not made herself well-known to the company during her life. We sincerely thank Liz’s long-time friend Janet Bagnall for taking some time to chat to us about Liz’s life and her connection to Bell Shakespeare’s work.
Elizabeth (Liz) Roberts was born in 1923 and grew up on her family’s sheep property, “Foyle View”, not far from Roma, QLD. Liz was an adventurer from the start- she and her sister Rosemary could often be found riding dairy cows and horses bareback in the paddocks (the former being particularly tricky, with no mane to hang on to!). As a teenager Liz moved to Sydney to attend Pymble Ladies’ College and later The University of Sydney, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Anthropology and English.
After working as a tutor and research assistant in anthropology at The University of Sydney for some time, in 1952 Liz sailed (yes, sailed) to London. Here she would spend several years working at University College London and was, for a time, joined by her sister Rosemary. Together they adventured across Europe and the Middle East, though Liz had a particular love of Britain. She enjoyed visits to the Globe theatre in London which bolstered her enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s work.
Liz returned to Australia and spent the next 25 years living in Sydney and working across the financial and mining industries. A trailblazer for her time, she also managed a small mining investment company for a time.
However, her adventures were far from over. In the mid-1970s, Liz returned to The University of Sydney as a student of Arabic Studies and graduated, once again, with honours. This rather remarkable new skill would set Liz up well for the next part of her journey: working on archaeological digs in Jordan, at the ruins of Pella and of Jerash. Liz worked on projects for both the University of Sydney and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and spent many happy years living in a village called Dhahr Sirou.
Hers was a simple abode and Liz was widely respected by the local community. She assisted the local children with English tuition and formed strong friendships with the women of the village. Access to education was extremely important to Liz and she raised funds to put several girls from the village through tertiary education in Amman. Needless to say, it was difficult for Liz and for her Jordanian family when the time came for her to return to Sydney after 14 years of living abroad. She stayed in touch and continued to support the community for many years to come.
It was after her return that Liz met and became firm friends with Janet, who has kindly shared a little about Liz’s connection to the arts in Australia with us. Liz’s years spent living in Britain had a profound impact on her and she felt a fondness and connection to the people and culture of the isles. She enjoyed visits to the Globe theatre in London, and upon her return to Australia later in life, grew to appreciate the work of Bell Shakespeare. She was thrilled that Shakespeare’s work was being produced at a world-class standard in a way that was accessible to Australian audiences. Though the company never had the pleasure of becoming more closely acquainted with Liz, we are grateful in the knowledge that she was able to experience and enjoy the company’s work.
Liz’s gift came to Bell Shakespeare at our time of greatest need. The global pandemic threw arts companies across Australia (and the world) into turmoil, and Liz’s generosity helped ensure that Bell Shakespeare was able to weather the storm, and emerge ready to continue producing world-class theatre for Australian audiences. The impact of Liz’s gift to Bell Shakespeare cannot be understated: we are still here, undoubtedly, thanks to the generosity of those like Liz and we are forever grateful.
Our community of donors ensure that our stages remain well-trodden and that the fire of learning Shakespeare continues to burn bright in schools across Australia. If Bell Shakespeare has been an important part of your life, or if you would like to help perpetuate the work we do, you may want to consider joining our Legacy Circle, our dear community of supporters who have left us a gift in their will.