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Paying tribute to a Unity Theatre star

ONGOING SUPPORT: Bevan Turnpenny, who passed away at the beginning of last year, left the Society a generous $16,000. Pictures supplied
Pat Hall and Bevan Turnpenny on stage in the early days during a Unity Theatre production.

There were many in this community who knew Bevan Turnpenny through his work as a hydrologist, employed first by the East Coast Catchment Board and Regional Water Board.

His legacy as a physical geographer with a passion for all things Gisborne and the East Coast will be an enduring one. But when Bevan succumbed to a long illness and died almost 18 months ago, Gisborne Unity Theatre had particular reason to mourn his loss.

When he first came to Gisborne in 1981, Bevan met several members of the theatre and was drawn into his first production when he took on the title role in Joe Orton’s dark comedy, Entertaining Mr Sloane.

From that point on there was no looking back. He was bitten by the bug, as he used to explain, and took part in numerous productions including one that required him to lie in a hospital bed, centre stage for the entire play, as he portrayed a terminally ill patient.

Whose Life is it Anyway? was based on fact and examined that still controversial topic of the right to die if active life no longer seems viable.

Unity members recall how his performance moved some to tears with a few leaving the auditorium giving uneasy backward glances at the motionless figure lying against pillows in a dim light.

Along with outstanding performances, Bevan added set building to his list of theatrical accomplishments.

In due course he was elected as President of Unity Theatre in which position he distinguished himself by running highly efficient meetings and planning programmes that held strong audience appeal.

Eventually unable to continue with such activities, he continued to support Unity and it was the committee’s great delight to recently learn he had left the Society $16,000.

This windfall was typical of Bevan’s generous spirit and his love of a good time, surrounded by people with a shared enthusiasm for the performing arts, a celebratory drink or three and plenty of laughter.

These were what he enjoyed for many years in his involvement with Unity Theatre, hence his desire to continue giving assistance.

All theatrical societies have projects requiring funding, so careful thought is being given as to how Bevan’s legacy should be spent and Unity Theatre’s committee is making no hasty decisions.

But they feel that although it is a long time since he passed away, it is appropriate that tribute should be paid to him, not in a delayed obituary but in grateful recognition of his largesse, which is going to enhance their continuing work as this region’s longest-established theatrical group.