Sorlie’s Revue

Sorlie’s Revue was a joint enterprise for entrepreneur Grace Sorlie (d. 1962) and comedian Bobby Le Brun (b.1910). Together with a troupe of dancers, singers, comedians and sight acts they toured regional towns in eastern Australia from 1949 to 1961. The show was a revival and perpetuation of the travelling tent show that Grace’s late husband, George Sorlie (1885-1948), had toured on a similar circuit from 1917 to 1945, including appearances for Harry Wren at Brisbane’s Cremorne Theatre in 1940.

Jeff Carter’s photographs of Sorlie’s were taken between 1957 and 1962, in the years when television was available in the capital cities but had not yet arrived in Broken Hill. They include setting up the tent, the audience arriving and watching the performance, some of the acts that were performed during the show, and the performers preparing in their dressing rooms, and relaxing during the day back at their caravans.

In one photograph, a man, two women and a young boy are entering the tent. They are dressed well in coats, the young boy in long pants. At the entrance is an usher, on one side, and on the other, Mrs Bobby Brun. Between them, Grace Sorlie stands her ground—arms crossed, head tilted, she stares down the camera, as if issuing a threat or warding off critique, aware it seems that the young boy has just walked past photos of near-naked women which are also in shot. The relation of foyer photography to variety performance is conventional—as invitation is to arrival, as promise is to delivery. The challenge in anticipation of television is clear: along an axis that oscillated between nostalgic regression and permissive progression, variety could offer audiences of the 1950s what television could not.

Sorlie’s reputation as the pre-eminent travelling variety show was established during George Sorlie’s time. Speaking of Brisbane in the 1940s, entertainer Peggy Ryan recalls Bartons, Coles Variety and ‘a couple of others’, but regards Sorlie’s as ‘the big time one’.  By all accounts, Sorlie’s was a class-act, a stylish and well-regarded show. Indeed, it was so respectable that, at age 14, singer Lola Nixon was able to obtain a special dispensation from the education department to join Sorlie’s on tour in 1949. Nixon recalls that Grace Sorlie, as we see her in this picture, was always ‘very smartly dressed’ with ‘the best diamonds you ever saw in your life’, ‘a very statuesque looking woman’ who projected a well-groomed sense of style throughout the show: ‘She’d check you out when you’d go on stage’, says Nixon. ‘She was very, very particular’, ‘the standard was there, even though it was tent theatre’, ‘costumes were immaculate’, ‘everything was kept fabulously’, ‘pristine under difficult conditions’.

In the mid 1950s, on her return from three successful years performing stage variety England, Ireland and Europe Val Jellay ‘jumped at the invitation’ to join Sorlie’s, which she regarded as ‘the most established and prestigious touring company’. Likewise, comedian Lucky Grills, who worked for Sorlie’s in the 1950s and later ran Carols Varieties as a second-tier touring show into the early 1960s, recalls some seven other tent shows from the time (Coles Variety, Stanley McKay’s Gaieties, Worldwide Varieties, Barton’s Follies, Billie Woods Varieties, Rex St Louis’s show, Ashton’s Varieties, Cisco’s Varieties), but regards Sorlie’s as ‘the epitome of the successful ones’ with its tent that could hold ‘over 2,000 people’. Sorlie’s co-producer Bobby Le Brun was also, according to Grills, ‘a little bit more sophisticated than the others’ and, as a comedian, ‘never ever worked other than 110% squeaky clean,  nothing suggestive’. Indeed, Lucky Grills ‘got wrapped over the knuckles for a joke [he] did at Sorlies’ and ‘was ordered to take it out of the show or be sacked’.

Sorlie’s stylish respectability did not altogether exclude genres of erotic entertainment from the bill. In a photograph, captioned ‘Whip Strip’, a woman stands on stage, wearing nothing but pasties and a g-string. Her arms are extended above her head, her hands and fingers intricately symmetrical, her head turned back, her eyes closed and her legs crossed one behind the other. The attitude is arching back and exposing the torso. She is turned side on to the audience, slightly twisting back the shoulder closest to the audience, exposing her breasts and armpit to them. Alongside behind her, a man in a black jacket, with a scarf tied at this neck in cowboy style, lashes at her with a whip. The camera has caught the whip as it curls round her torso, below her breasts. He is older than her; his hairline is receding and he wears glasses. But he makes up for that because he wields the whip with such skill.

The caption refers to a strip, but no clothes are apparent. He may be holding a second whip in his left hand. Beside the woman is a chopping block. The image is marked by contrast. She is white, naked, young and exposed in passivity. He is dark, old, fully clothed and instrumental in action. The action is lit from the front and the side. The photo captures the erotic charge of the performance. Its close-up focus frames the action, but makes its hard to read from the photograph just how such acts as ‘Whip Strip’ played to Sorlie’s audience. It seems more like the kind of sideshow acts described by Richard Broome as standard fare at agricultural shows. Sorlie’s and other touring variety shows travelled along the same circuits as the shows. But whereas sideshow attractions directed their erotic address at a predominantly male audience, another photograph from Jeff Carter indicates that the Sorlie’s audience was decidedly mixed.

In another photograph, a female performer in bras, sleeves and panties, with a feather headdress and feather tail-piece fanning from her hips, stands in the aisle, amongst the audience, and turns to address a spectator. It is not clear exactly which spectator she is addressing. It could be a man or a woman, although whoever it is, there is a partner of the opposite sex alongside. Which is to say that the eroticism of the performer’s act is not addressing an audience of men. Rather, she triangulates the relation between male and female spectators.

In comparison with the performer, the spectators at Sorlie’s in Broken Hill are respectably well-dressed, almost overly so, it seems. But they are broadly smiling, having a laugh, enjoying the interaction – perhaps, more so, the further back they are from the performer. The man closest to her and the woman seated next to him are cowering somewhat. A man on the other side of her looks to the camera, perhaps awkwardly. A woman to the side looks over the crowd to see what’s happening. The house is not entirely full. A gap in the seating in the background, with some spectators seated at the periphery. These may be cheaper seats and there are children in the audience. A large follow-spot hung from the centre pole is focused on the stage.


  • Carter, Jeff, 1928-2010. Sorlie’s Travelling Vaudeville Show, Broken Hill, 1957-1962. National Library of Australia,
  • Peggy Ryan interviewed by Beryl Davis and Laurel Garlick, sound recording, 3 March 1995, Queensland Performing Arts Centre collection.
  • Lola Nixon interviewed by Bill Stephens, sound recording, Sydney, 29 April 2005, National Library of Australia, ORAL TRC 5447.
  • Lucky Grills interviewed by Bill Stephens, sound recording, Sydney, 3-5 July 1995, National Library of Australia, ORAL TRC 3293.
  • Val Jellay. 1994. Stagestruck: An Autobiography. Melbourne: Spectrum Publications.
  • Richard Broome with Alick Jackomos. 1998. Sideshow Alley, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, NSW.
  • ‘Sorlie’s Revue Popular’, Canberra Times, 14 Oct 1954, p.2.

29 thoughts on “Sorlie’s Revue”

  1. I remember Mrs Sorlie and her troupe of entertainers coming to GRIFFITH N.S.W. every year ( co-inciding with the GRIFFITH Agricultural Show). As a young child I went to the afternoon matinees, seeing Bobbie Le Brun and juggling acts, vaudeville acts.
    I now live in BELROSE N.S.W. (the adjoing suburb to FRENCH’S FOREST where Grace and George lived when they were not on ‘the wallaby’ touring.
    Grace Avenue FRENCHS FOREST is named after her and there is a Sorlie Road also in FRENCH’S FOREST named after George.

  2. Dear Gloria, thanks for sharing your memories of Sorlie’s at Griffith. It’s good to know that Griffith was on Sorlie’s touring route. Also good to know about the streets named after Grace and Sorlie in French’s Forest. Jonathan

  3. I remember Sorlies when they toured up the coast of Queensland. They played here in Maryborough and it was a wonderful show. I saw my first panto at Sorlies when I was 8 years old and never missed a panto right up until they folded their tent. This was my introduction to live theatre and have loved it ever since.

  4. I am presently writing a book about my family from when I was young.
    Everyone should write their early history as there is always a story to be told. I have been writing about all the tent shows that I had to take my younger sister too -Sorlie’s came to mind I have fond memories when they came to Albury between 1949-1961 most of their tent shows were held on railway land at the eastern end of our main street known as Dean Street. It is now the entrance to the Harold Mair bridge which was built over the new freeway. For a tent show on the road with live theatre it was first class.

  5. Dear June – thanks for sharing your memories of Sorlie’s in Albury. It’s good to know where they performed. By all accounts, Sorlie’s performances were the class act! I look forward to reading your book when it’s ready. Do stay in touch! best wishes, Jonathan

  6. My mum and dad worked worked as a stage hand and selling merandising while I was born on the road during this time when growing up requirly meet bobby due brun and other performers at coolangatta hotel when on the gold coast doing their revues, also got some good photos of sorlies handed down to me by my mum if any one interested

  7. Dear Jonathan, I’ve just come across your interesting account of “Sorlie’s Revue”. Sorlies annual visits to Griffith were a much anticipated event during my childhood, and we attended as many performances as we could afford. My father was the bandmaster of the Griffith Brass Band which used to play nightly outside the entrance to the Sorlies tent throughout its annual one week season. In 1985 I recorded long interviews with both Bobby and Gracie Le Brun for the National Library’s Oral History Program. We made plans to record more the following year, but unfortunately Bobby died before those cold be achieved. I would be very interested in making contact with Stewart, who mentions that he has some good photos of Sorlies. The National Library may be interested in these photos.
    Best wishes,
    Bill Stephens

  8. Dear Bill. Many thanks for your comment. It’s great to read about your memories of Sorlies. Since writing that post I’ve listened to the oral histories you recorded with Bobby and Gracie Le Brun (and many others that you made for the National Library). They’re a wonderful record, full of lively details about people, places and performance, and of great value to research. I’ll see if I can put you in touch with Stewart. best wishes, Jonathan

  9. Dear Jonathan..thanks for your prompt response and kind words. Hopefully Stewart is contactable and I’ll look forward to hearing from him n due course.
    Very best wishes,

  10. I was a dancer in Sorlies pantomimes for five years when they played each Dec/Jan at Civic Park,Newcastle. Gracie Le Brun would come to Jessie Brownlie’s studio 3weeks before, tutor us over two days all dances and we would practice over and over till opening day. I loved Gracie & Bobby Le Brun, it was always so much fun and we were always treated with love and respect. Grace Sorlie did not have much to do with us littlies but I do remember her,full ake up,hair in a bun,lots of jewellery.

  11. Reference “Whip Strip” .. I’ve just come across a program for “Then and Now”, one of the shows presented by Sorlies in Griffith NSW during its 1960 tour. Featured in this program is a photo of an act, “Margaret and Maurice”, which shows the same couple as featured in Jeff Carter’s “Whip Strip” photo. Maurice has whip in hand with the lash wrapped around Margaret’s torso. Margaret in this photo is wearing an elegant fringed leotard, fish-net stockings and long gloves. The “Whip Strip” photo was taken later in the act, after Maurice had stripped off Margaret’s costume with the whip.
    That act made quite an impression on me, because of the brilliance of the execution, which climaxed with Margaret, in G.String as depicted in Jeff Carter’s program, running towards Maurice and executing an aeroplane spin across Maurice’s body, which finished with her being held aloft over his head.

    The caption for the act in the program reads – Margaret and Maurice, another importation to Australia after many successful years in England, Japan and China. Their Bolero Whip Dance has been acclaimed as one of the most unusual presentation in the world.”

    I had always remembered the act being called “Margo and Maurice”, but notice in the program that there is another act listed as ” Margo – This exotic and daring young lady has dance routines which have taken her around the world. Her natural ability, with an eye for something different, has put her among the top class of dancers today”. There is no photo of Margo, but I suspect that this is the same performer who was the dancer in the Margaret and Maurice Adagio act.

  12. Helen DePaul/Noble also toured with Sorlies as a dancer when she was aged 14. Her recollections of this time are captured in an oral history I recorded with her in 2006, and now available online at the National Library of Australia.
    I am keen to track down photographs of Bobby Le Brun in character, particularly as “Bessie the Belle of the Bowling Green”. There is one photo in the Jeff Carter collection, of Bobby in drag, but it is not of Bessie. I would also be very interested to hear from anyone who has recordings or film of Bobby Le Brun performing.

  13. Thank you, Bill. Yes. Whip Strip is Margaret and Maurice. I should update this post with information that I’ve gathered since! Sorlie’s presented ‘Then and Now’ in Broken Hill during their season there, 13-24 September 1960. Here’s the line-up as reported in the Barrier Miner: “Leo Bassi and June from Paris, in a novel act ‘Feats with Feet’; ‘Margo the Parisian Bombshell’ in her sensational Fan Dance; England’s Crazy Comics, Gordon and Colville; Margaret and Maurice from the Orient in Dances Exotic; The ‘Randows’, comedy jugglers; Frank’s Fabulous Foxies, clever performing dogs; ‘Royston Australia’s triple voiced Ventriloquist; ‘The Alvarados’ in ‘Risks on a Roller’; Vikki Hammond, Britain’s Brigitte Bardot; and, of course, Aussie’s popular comedian, Bobby le Brun and his companion in comedy, Hal Lennon.” (Barrier Miner, 10 Sep 1960, p. 4). Val Jellay and Maurie Fields were also on the tour. I’d be interested to learn if this line-up corresponds with the Then and Now program that you have. Like you, I assumed that ‘Margo’ is Margaret. In other notes on Margaret and Maurice, I have notices of nightclub seasons in Singapore (1953) and Hong Kong (1959), and an appearance on Club Seven for television station HSV-7 in Melbourne (NFSA Title No 7524; the date in NFSA catalogue is c. 1967, but I think it’s more likely early 1960s). best wishes, Jonathan

  14. Hello Alison, many thanks for sharing your memories of performing with Sorlie’s pantomimes in Newcastle. best wishes, Jonathan

  15. Thank you, Bill. I’ve listened to your interview with Helen DePaul and learnt a lot from doing so – including her recollections of touring with Sorlies, and of working with Queenie Paul. I’ve seen the photos of Bobby Le Brun in drag as Mrs Tickle and Widow Twankey in the Sorlies programs in his collection at the NLA, but I don’t think I’ve seen any photographs of Bessie… best wishes, Jonathan

  16. Yes Jonathan, my 1960 “Then and Now” program appears to be the same program as presented in Broken Hill in 1960. Interesting information. Thanks for your reply.

  17. I fondly recall visiting Sorlie’s Pantomimes, back in the 1950’s, when Sorlies toured Glen Innes, NSW.
    As a ‘resident’ of United Protestant’s Glen Eden Boy’s Home at Red Range Road, between 1949 and 1954, I was fortunate enough to see some of the Sorlie’s matinee pantomime performances. I vaguely recall a performance of ‘Aladdin’ (or was it ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’), where the male and female leads were undertaken by females. The Principal Boy, as I recall, wore a short green jerkin, and black mesh stockings over beautifully long legs. There was the obligatory Pantomime Dame, whose real identity is unknown to me. However, in one finale ‘the Dame’ wore a full length yellow dress, with large red polka dots upon it. As I was ‘waiting in the wings’ to make a presentation I became aware that the Dame’s dress had no back to it. This afforded one a full rear view of long legged frilly pantaloons, where the dress fell short of any backing. In the finale the Widow Twankey (?) glided out on stage with both ends of her ‘gown’ held at arms length. When she turned around at the footlights (that’s right her back to the audience) it became apparent that there was no rear to her ‘gown’. Just an uninterrupted view of her underwear! I remember being in ‘stitches’ long before the audience was given the opportunity to see the humour. I’d met Mrs. Sorlie a couple of times, on stage, during the Glen Innes Tours, as it was my ‘duty’ to make a floral presentation, with a few words of thanks, on behalf of the Glen Eden Boys Home. Apparently we Glen Eden Boys were afforded ‘freebies’. The Mrs. Sorlie, that I recall, was already an elderly lady, gracious, with spectacles and beautifully coiffured snow white hair. I often think back on those days, especially those delightful Sorlie experiences.

  18. It’s interesting to here about George and Grace Sorlie, I am trying to get a better understanding of who he was and try to get a good picture of what he did. George would be my great great Grandfather, my Grandfather has recalled a bit about him when I have been on road trips with him and has some great memories of him, I never hear anything about Sonny, George’s son, it would be great to see some photos of George I’m sure my grandfather has some but he has dimentia now and is not in a great way.
    Would love to learn more, possibly if anyone has any family history would love to hear from you.

  19. Hi Jonathon ..just found this article on Sorlies Revue . I was with Sorlies for many years . Did the show Then and Now with Margo and Maurice. I Kay Richardson ,was in ballet line up also worked as an acrobat ..My parents and Stewart’s parentspare

  20. I recall the Sorlies Review Show at Orange NSW at Orange Show time. I was only a young lad but remember going to the show with Aunty and Uncle and Mother. It was very entertaining and popular, I know as a Young Boy My eyes were nearly popping out at the spectacular acts.Very fond memories.

  21. I recall as a young boy going to Sorlies Review at the Orange Show NSW As a young boy my eyes were popping out at the spectacular acts. I was taken by and Aunt and Uncle and my Mother for several years when the Show was in town. Very fond memories.

  22. I am trying to find anyone who would have any pictures or details regarding other workers at the show such as Thomas ward who we believe had red hair & beautifully dressed – we believe he was in charge of a slide
    Regards lyn Derrick

  23. During the COVID19 Lock-out at our retirement Village in Killara, my husband and I have been recording material in the “Black Box” of an artist William Fletcher. For details since the 1960s. please see William Fletcher Foundation website. In 1961, Bill joined Sorlies for the entire season, we understand, possibly as a tent hand, but he certainly created many sketches associated with the performances and the environs. He completed about 50 paintings from this experience, a few of which are in my husband’s book about the artist after he died in 1983. Unfortunately Bill did not annotate most of his sketches and views of the locations he visited (one exception port macquarie) . Contact desired from Jonathan Bollen and any others who may help identify performers

    for The BlackBox contains many sketches Bill made before the 1970s

  24. Dear Robin and Trevor, Thanks for making contact. It is so interesting to learn about Bill Fletcher’s paintings and his connection with Sorlies. I have looked at the collection of programs from Sorlie’s at the National Library in Canberra. We may be able to refer to the programs to help identify the performers. best wishes, Jonathan

  25. Thank you all for the wonderful memories.
    This article and the comments following, has allowed me to relive so many joyful memories Sorlies gave me as a child.
    I started learning piano at the age of four and have continued playing, singing and entertaining for the past 70 years.
    Sorlies was the catalyst that gave me the drive and ambition to persevere with music. The pantomimes, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and many more showed me how exciting it was to be on stage. Who could ever forget the “Baddie” creeping up behind the star and the signs waving in the corner calling us all to “Boo Boo”.
    As an ten year old (1957), my music teacher knew someone from the Sorlies cast and took me backstage and introduced me to a number of people. That moment was a turning point in my life. The performers really inspired me and even now i can still picture the massive tent pitched in Civic Park Newcastle where i was spent many days during the christmas school holidays in awe of and thrilled by entertainers instilling such emotion in the young audiences.
    During my many hours of tedious practice, my mind would drift to the Sorlies tent where i would picture myself up there on the stage performing. I’m sure the artists had no idea of the impression they indelibly etched into my soul giving me the drive to continue with my music.
    It has been many years of ups and downs, however music has been the mainstay that keeps me sane and entertaining keeps me young at heart.
    Today, as i continue to entertain the elderly, i am still that young boy on the stage of Sorlies.
    I know it is not an original statement, but in deference to Bob Hope, “Thanks for the Memories”.

  26. Dad, Ron Stanton and my Mum, Elaine performed with Sorlies to name a few shows. I remember in the 80’s staying at Bob and Grace LeBrun’s home and Bob being so funny and Grace being the most graceful lady.

  27. Sorlies came to West Wyalong. As a young child I learnt a lot about adult revue entertainment. Vaudeville Aussie style before TV. Even “dirty jokes”!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *