A tribute to the late Don Reid: Actor, Director, Playwright, Mentor and Friend

Written by Tim Stackpool

Don Reid
Actor Don Reid passed away yesterday after sustaining a fall

The Australian theatre and entertainment industry is lamenting the passing of Don Reid, actor, director, playwright, mentor and friend.

More recently known for penning Codgers, the story of senior gentlemen who gather each week at the gym, in it Don tells of real life experiences as they exercise together, chew the fat, laugh, tease and sing. They solve the problems of the world, agreeing to disagree. When secrets, differences and loss of trust threaten to destroy the long established friendships, they learn that ‘difference’ is more a matter of point of view.

Each of Don’s dramas reflect greatly on the experiences, the highs and sometime disappointing lows that Don himself faced during his entire lifetime love of the stage.

Don Reid was a founding member of the Ensemble Company, Australia’s longest continuously running professional theatre company, and for 25 years, performed in, or directed, well over thirty productions. Away from the Ensemble, Don performed for all the major theatre companies across Australia, and in several commercial productions. He enjoyed extensive work in television, film and radio. In 1993, to much critical acclaim, Don wrote and performed at Wharf 2 his one-man play, A Whimsical Fellow, based on the Australian poet, John Shaw Neilson.

Don also had a great love of early Australian history, and the explorers that shaped this nation. In his play Navigating Flinders, Don sets the action in Mauritius where Matthew Flinders was detained for 6 years while returning from his explorations around Australia to England.

Don Reid (centre) with Lee Young and Judi Farr at the 2011 Gluggs Awards
Don Reid (centre) with Lee Young and Judi Farr at the 2011 Glugs Awards

Age never wearied Don. Noting the talent that a senior actor has in conveying a complex stream of thought merely via the lifting of a wry eyebrow, he wrote Codgers partly as a gift of employment for his older acting colleagues, saying of the cast “Look at that. Between these men there’s got to be over 400 years of experience on stage, and it shows. You couldn’t do that when you were a 25-year-old actor.”

Just last year, Don was treading the boards again, this time as Norman Thayer in On Golden Pond, a wistful tale of a couple facing their imminent mortality and the struggles of ageing. This followed from his recognition at the 2012 Tropfest short film festival, where he received the Best Actor accolade for a tragic comedy piece.

While his presence on stage and on film will be missed by fans and those loyal to the Australian theatre scene, his absence from the regular theatre-lover ‘Glugs’ luncheons will be profound. Glugs was originally a gathering of Sydney theatre critics, but has grown to welcome patrons, participants and promoters of the craft. Don received two Glugs’ Taffy Davies Memorial Awards for Best New Australian work for Codgers and for Navigating Flinders, as well as the Seaborn Broughton and Walford Glugs Life Achievement Award a couple of years ago.

Don’s presence, along with his partner Fiona, would bring tales of adventures and stories from the great era, as well as openness and support for those still honing their skills.

Don passed away after sustaining a fall, on 9 April 2013 and leaves a legacy to which many can only aspire.

Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

5 thoughts on “A tribute to the late Don Reid: Actor, Director, Playwright, Mentor and Friend

  • Don Reid taught my English and Modern History classes at the now defunct Narwee Boys’ High School, from 1961 through 1965.

    As commented by others here, ‘Mr Reid’ was an inspiring teacher and a really great man, treating his students with unerring respect and receiving the same in return.

    Sadly, I only learned of his passing a year ago today, but was reminded of that anniversary of my discovery by Facebook.

    While these earlier episodes of Don’s life were, to his theatrical colleagues, another life, they nevertheless do not detract from the impact he had on so many lives before his real passion, theatre, became his real purpose and his great achievement.

    I still vividly remember Don taking his entire 1963 English class to The Ensemble to see him perform in ‘The Physicist’ and will never forget that great experience we all had that day, watching the passion and skill of one of my great adolescent heroes, Mr Reid.

    A little late, but no less sincere, vale Don.

    • From another Geoff, one year later at Narwee BHS: thanks for the lovely memories of Don Reid who taught me English during the years 1962 to 67. As you said, Don was inspiring and respectful and I would add friendly and understanding of a bunch of bright but narrow-minded boys who were ripe for wider life experiences. He took us there. I was inspired to seek out info on Don because of good memories from those times.

  • Don was my English/drama teacher at Kingsgrove North High in the late sixties. He took me from an ordinary student to the top of the class. He was brilliant.

  • Don Reid taught me English from 1971-1974. He thought that I should be a writer, but I didn’t choose that path.
    I will always remember his moustache and great barritone voice.

  • It was Don Reid who absolutely inspired me to follow my passion into a singer-songwriter performing career that is still on-going. In 1956, he was my Eglish teacher at the newly established East Hills Boys High School. Well do I remember his reading, in character, of the short story, “The Bespoke Overcoat”. In 1958, I as lucky enough to have him aonce more. My introduction to Shakespeare came with his work with my class on Henry V. We discussed the various approaches to “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”. Then, after us having our say, he transported us to Agincourt with the power and empathy of his voice. After my leaving school Don came with me to give me notes on an appearance I gave at a club show. I saw him in many of his roles over the years and I always came away after having had another Don Reid lesson in performance. He always told me to “just tell the story like I’m the only listener in the room”. I still take that to heart every time I step on a stage. I give thanks to Don for his great generosity of spirit and I wish that I could still do that in person. I’m sure he’s watching, listening and sending me a helping word or two. Vale, Don. I miss you.


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