This is the seventh in a series of vignettes by local historian Michael Fowler, detailing events and characters that have shaped the Hawke’s Bay Opera House story.

Photo: Redman performing at the Hastings Municipal Theatre

A long-running show at the Hawke’s Bay Opera House was performed by local Hastings man, John (Jack) Murtagh (1913–1989) in the 1950s.

Jack was a movie projectionist, and upon seeing hypnotist Franquin performing at the Opera House in 1949, he studied to become one himself.

He adopted the name Redman, which was his mother’s maiden name (and his middle name), because it was “easy to pronounce and spell, and it actually was his name”.

He began a New Zealand tour in 1951, and then toured Australia after being approached by an agent following a show in Palmerston North. While in Australia, he was offered an American tour by another agent, and traveled in 1951/52 through sixteen States doing shows. While performing in Hollywood, he was asked by yet another agent to perform in Canada. Jack accepted this and came back to New Zealand in 1952 to do a farewell show at the Opera House on 23 April before leaving for Canada. This season was extended when he performed again in May. At that time, he proclaimed he was New Zealand’s highest-paid entertainer. A review of the show said while his tasks for his hypnotized subjects were not new “their reactions amazed even the most consistent followers of the hypnotism shows”.

After the Canadian tour Jack once again toured New Zealand in 1953, including long seasons at the Opera House.