Marda Vanne

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(1896-1970) Stage name for Margaretha van Hulsteyn. Actress and director. Nicknamed "Scrappy".

Her name also spelled Margueretha van Hulsteyn, Margaret van Hulsteyn or Martha van Hulsteyn by some sources.


Born in Pretoria as Margaretha van Hulsteyn, to lawyer Sir Willem and Lady van Hulsteyn on September 27, 1896.

She was famously, though briefly, married to future Nationalist Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom (the "Lion of the North"), some years before he entered politics. In 1918, after a period as actress in South Africa, she left South Africa to study acting with Elsie Fogerty at the Central School of Dramatic Art in London. She ended up working in England, only returning in 1940, now calling herself Marda Vanne. While in England her performances included the "cockney housewife" in If (Dunsany), and roles in a number of plays by Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham (e.g For Services Rendered), Monckton Hoffe (Many Waters) and Charles Morgan's The Flashing Stream.

In London she formed a professional and personal partnership with actress Gwen ffrangçon-Davies that lasted until her death in 1970. She and Gwen worked in South Africa during the war years (1940-1946), after which they returned to England. She gained British Citizenship in 1965, though she continued to visit and be involved in South African theatre for many years.

She died 29th April 1970 in England.

Her career and contribution to South African Theatre

First phase: South Africa, 1914-1918

She fell in love with theatre as a young girl, and in spite of the opposition of her parents, became an actress, originally performing under her childhood nickname of Scrappy van Hulsteyn for Stephen Black's company, and making a name for herself in Love and the Hyphen. In the latter years of the war, she joined Leonard Rayne's company for a while, performing under her baptismal name of Margaretha van Hulsteyn). She appeared in a number of plays for the Leonard Rayne company, including, A White Man, Kismet, A Royal Divorce, ending with two more Stephen Black plays (Helena's Hope, Ltd and Van Kalabas Does His Bit) in February 1917, and finally an acclaimed major role in Milestones in July 1917 at the Cape Town Opera House.

Second phase: England, 1919-1939

In 1918 she left South Africa for England, where she adopted the stage name of Marda Vanne and went on to attain success in London.

Her first appearance was in If at the Ambassador's Theatre on 30 May 1921. She also appeared in New York's Empire Theatre in Easy Virtue.

(For more on her work in England, including her stage, film and TV profile, see

Third phase: South Africa, 1940-1946

She returned to South Africa in 1940 and became a director of the resuscitated Pretoria Repertory Theatre. In 1942 she and Gwen ffrangçon-Davies formed the Gwen ffrangçon-Davies / Marda Vanne Company, which presented seasons of plays at the Standard Theatre and toured extensively in South Africa with classical and modern plays during the during the war years.

Among her more celebrated South African productions as director/producer and actress are Watch on the Rhine (1943), Flare Path (194*), What Every Woman Knows (194*), Blithe Spirit (1944), Milestones (Bennett and Knoblock, 1944), The Wind of Heaven (1946), A Month in the Country (1946), The Wind of Heaven (1946), which was their last production before she went back to England with Gwen ffrangçon-Davies.

Fourth phase: England and South Africa, 1946-1970

In this period she still did the occasional theatrical work in London, her final appearance being in Shaw's Man and Superman (1965), but most of her theatrical work was done in South Africa, while her London career seems to have been more in television work and the occasional film .

(For more on her work in England, including her stage, film and TV profile, see

She kept close ties with theatre in South Africa and later returned on occasion to become involved in the establishment of the National Theatre Organisation (NTO), she and Gwen being appointed to the first Board of Control in 1948, and doing occasional plays for them. In 1950 she was appointed artistic advisor of the NTO.

South African productions in this period include:

As director: Die Wewenaar se Vrou Volksteater, Pretoria, 1949), George Bernard Shaw’s Candida for the National Theatre Organisation in 1950.

As actress: Guy Butler’s The Dam (NTO, 1952); N.C. Hunter's Waters of the Moon (NTO, 1953); and Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet (NTO, 1961), her last South African appearance.

[TH, JH]


Margot Bryant 1979. Born To Act: The Story of Freda Godfrey. Johannesburg: Ad Donker: pp.113-115.

P.J. du Toit 1988. Amateurtoneel in Suid-Afrika. Pretoria: Academica

Percy Tucker 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

"S. African actress dies", Pretoria News 28 April, 1970.

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