Yvonne Bryceland

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Yvonne Bryceland. (1926-1992). Superb Cape Town born actress.


Yvonne Bryceland, née Heilbuth, was born on18 November 1925 in Cape Town, South Africa and died of cancer on 13 January 1992 at the age of 66 at the Royal Free Hospital in London, England.

Yvonne was married to [Brian Astbury]]. She had three daughters, one of them being Mavourneen Bryceland.

Described as the first lady of South African theatre, Yvonne Bryceland was an actress who exuded a rare strength of portrayal, particularly of the anti-apartheid works of Athol Fugard.



She started as an amateur performer while a librarian in Cape Town, playing inter alia at the Barn Theatre and the Masque Theatre in Muizenberg.

She worked as a newspaper librarian before her theatre debut in Stage Door in 1947. Her talents were first recognised through her association with the renowned Port Elizabeth playwright Athol Fugard. Bryceland joined the Cape Performing Arts Board in 1969 until 1971. She delivered inspired performances in Fugard's People are Living There and Boesman and Lena, in which she made her European debut in London.

Fugard wrote many roles specifically for Bryceland and was also influenced by her. The New York Times called her an actress 'who reads the soul' of Fugard. Bryceland's collaborations with Fugard were many and included Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act and The Road to Mecca. The former premiered at The Space, South Africa's first non-racial theatre in Cape Town that Bryceland founded in 1972 with her theatre photographer husband, Brian Astbury, defying racial segregation.

Of his experience of working with Bryceland, Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, in Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act in the late 1960s, actor Ben Kingsley said it was one of the best experiences of his career – 'a young actor's dream'.

In 1971, Bryceland performed outside South Africa for the first time in Boesman and Lena at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

Bryceland moved to London in 1978 to take the lead role in The Woman, a play by English playwright Edward Bond [1], at the Royal National Theatre. She spent eight years at the National, playing leading roles in Bertolt Brecht's Mother, Fugard's Road to Mecca and others. She relished the opportunity she had there to play a variety of parts at the same time. She once did 12 performances of four different productions in a single week. Bryceland is probably most celebrated for her role as the unconventional sculptor Helen Martins in The Road to Mecca, which marked her American debut. Based on the true story of the elderly Martins, who created a wonderland of life-sized sculptures in the yard of her cottage in a remote Karoo village, Nieuw Bethesda, the play asserts the challenging role of the artist in society.

She repeated the role in the film version of the play The Road to Mecca, as she did with her role in Boesman and Lena.

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

She acted in The Italian Straw Hat at the Little Theatre, December 1953.

One of her early professional roles was in James Ambrose Brown’s The Year of the Locust (Toerien-Rubin, 1966).

For CAPAB she performed inn Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,***, and a number of Athol Fugard’s plays - People are Living There (19*) Hello and Goodbye (19**), Boesman and Lena (19*) and Orestes (197*).

At the Space she performed in numerous plays, from classical Greek to modern South African work, building up a formidable reputation for her range and earthy passion. Plays include the opening production at the Space Theatre (Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act) as well as Fragments, The Glass Menagerie, Going to Pot, Dimetos¸ Hello and Goodbye, The House of Blue Leaves, Kennedy's Children, A Long Day's Journey into Night, Madly in Love, Medea, Miss South Africa, Occupations, Othello Slegs Blankes, People are Living There, A Phoenix too Frequent, Ruffian on the Stair, The Tiger, Alpha Beta, Ashes, Bar and Ger, The Bear and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant.

She also directed Thirteen Clocks for The Space Theatre.

Among her most memorable roles, however, are those of Athol Fugard’s women, often performing with the author: She was the original and indeed definitive “Lena” in Boesman and Lena, “Milly” in People are Living There, “Hester” in Hello and Goodbye, *** in Statements, and perhaps best remembered of all - “Helen Martins” in The Road to Mecca. She also starred in the filmed versions of most of these plays. The Road to Mecca, which also featured Athol Fugard and Kathy Bates, went on international distribution.

Together with Glynn Day she starred in Athol Fugard’s Boesman and Lena and People are Living There, both directed by Fugard, for a PACT, CAPAB and Phoenix Players collaboration in 1970.

She starred in Brecht’s Mother Courage together with Aletta Bezuidenhout in 1977.

Other plays Bryceland featured in include Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night and Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie.

She came from London to the Wits Great Hall in 1982 for a one-woman performance for PACT of plays by Dario Fo and Franca Rame .

Awards, etc

Three Leaf Arts Award for Best Actress, 1967, for her work in A Hatful of Rain and The Years of the Locust. (Source: Teater SA, 1(3), 1969).

She was presented with the Gallery Award in Johannesburg in September 1970.

The first DALRO award for Best Actress was won by her for her role in Boesman and Lena in 1972.

Best Actress Award for her role in Long Day's Journey into Night, 1973.

Her acting skills earned her international recognition, including the 1984 Evening Standard award for Best Actress. Among other made-for-television and feature films she acted in was Shawn Slovo's acclaimed A World Apart in 1988, which won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award.

Bryceland was awarded Britain's most prestigious theatre award, the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award, in 1985.


Wikipedia [2].

South African History Online [3].

Teater SA, 1(3), 1969.

Astbury 1979.

Tucker, 1997.

Loren Kruger, 1999.

Yvonne Bryceland. Encyclopædia Britannica : britannica.com Cassidy, S. (1992) Yvonne Bryceland Is Dead at 66;

Actress in Plays by Athol Fugard. The New York Times [Online] 29 January:nytimes.com

The Laurence Olivier Awards: full list of winners 1976-2008: officiallondontheatre.co.uk

Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

Go to South African Theatre/Bibliography

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