Muriel Alexander

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Muriel Alexander (1884-1975). Actress, influential theatre producer and teacher.

Biography

She was born in Cape Town, but grew up in Johannesburg where her Australian born father, Abraham Alexander, was a stockbroker. Her mother Rachel was a natural performer and instilled a love of theatre in her children.

A child prodigy, Muriel first performed in A Pantomime Rehearsal at the Standard Theatre in 1893. In 1896 they spent the year in London, where she had some formal schooling. In 1899 they moved to Natal to wait out the Boer War, returning to Johannesburg in 1902. She studied and worked in London from 1903 to 1909.

In 1909 she returned to South Africa to produce plays and act. She became the leading lady of the Howitt-Phillips Company. After briefly returning to London before the First World War, she settled permanently in South Africa in 1916.

Training

In 1903 she went to London to take classes in singing and elocution, and in 1904 became one of the first pupils at Max Beerbohm Tree’s newly founded Academy of Dramatic Art.

Career

She became a member of Max Beerbohm Tree’s professional company for three years (1906-1909), playing in many of Tree’s standards, as well as working for other companies in London in 1909. But then she had to return to Johannesburg with her mother, so she became a professional actress in South Africa, touring with the Howitt-Philips Company.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

In 1921 she directed the operetta The Magic Key (Cooper Smyth) at The Palladium in Johannesburg, in aid of Transvaal Children’s Hospital.

She founded the Alexander School of Drama and Elocution. In 1927 she founded the Johannesburg Repertory Players (The REPS), for which she directed thirty-five of the productions between From 1927 to 1947, beginning with Capek’s R.U.R. and The Merchant of Venice in the first year and ending with . Mrs Moonlight (1931) And So to Bed (1931), Heartbreak House (1932) Dangerous Corner (1932), Tobias and the Angel (1936), The Sacred Flame (1937), The Beaux Strategem (1937), Touch Wood (1938) Tonight at 8.30 (1938), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1940s), The Flashing Stream (1943) and Joan of Lorraine (1947) including The Flashing Stream (1943) and Joan of Lorraine (1947). She also performed as actress for them, in plays such as ** , Romeo and Juliet (1949), The House of Bernarda Alba (1952), and *. She was instrumental in having the [[Johannesburg[REPS Theatre]] built (1951). In 1960 it was renamed the Alexander Theatre in her honour.

Over the years she also trained a large number of influential performers, including Moira Lister, Sidney James and Lawrence Harvey.

Alexander also wrote a number of plays, including Do you Believe in Fairies (one-act play for children, written in collaboration with a Mrs Lezard), Things Change: 1928-1931 (early 1930s), Love and the Boy' (late 1920s, early 1930s), The Affair of the Studio, The Sacrifice and Sauce for the Goose – all unpublished, the manuscripts or typescripts held in the Johannesburg Public Library.

As chair of the REPS as well as a director, she was also an influential figure in the Federation of Amateur Theatrical Societies of South Africa (FATSSA) from 1937 to 1960.

[JH, TH]

Sources

Joyce, Peter, 1999.

Tucker, 1997.

Du Toit, P.J. 1988.

Gosher, 1988.

Sowden 1964.

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