Gwen ffrangçon-Davies (1891-1992) was a distinguished actress, singer, and theatrical entrepreneur. (Her name also written Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies, particularly so in England, or occasionally in South Africa without the French cédille as Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies). [TH, JH, SH, AA]
Born in London on 25 January 1891, the only daughter of David ffrangcon-Davies, a Welsh operatic baritone.
She died in January 1992 in London at the age of 101.
She was trained by Mrs L.M. Hicks and Agnes Platt.
Gwen began as an operatic singer, then joined the Old Vic, for which her first stage appearance was in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She went on to Birmingham Rep as a dramatic actress, also working in the West End and at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon. In 1924, she played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Queen Anne in Richard of Bordeaux in 1934, both with John Gielgud, Henry V (with Ivor Novello, 1934), Gas Light (1934) and Macbeth (1942).
She returned to Britain in 1946 to continue with a long and distinguished career on the British stage.
She retired from the stage in 1970, but continued to appear on radio and television. She was created a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1991, aged 100, six months before her death at age 101, and made her final acting appearance in a teleplay of the Sherlock Holmes story The Master Blackmailer opposite Jeremy Brett that same year. Her other films included The Witches (1966) and The Devil Rides Out (1968).
Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance
She played leads in and/or directed works such as Watch on the Rhine (1943 at the Standard Theatre), Flare Path (194*), What Every Woman Knows (194*), Blithe Spirit (1944), Milestones (194*), Merry Wives of Windsor (1945), The Wind of Heaven (1946), A Month in the Country (1946) her last production before she went back to England.
In 1943, she had pleaded unsuccessfully for the establishment of a national “Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts”.
After her return to Britain she occasionally returned to work in South Africa, for instance Macbeth in Afrikaans, was directed by her in 1950 for the National Theatre. It was staged at His Majesty's Theatre and starred André Huguenet and Anna Neethling-Pohl. Directed Much Ado about Nothing for the inauguration of the new Reps Theatre, designed by Manfred Hermer, in 1951. It starred Margaret Inglis and Jack Ralphs. Starred in Waters of the Moon by N.C. Hunter and produced and played in The Innocents in 1953. In 1971 she appeared in Dear Antoine for CAPAB.
Phyllis Hartnoll. The Oxford Companion to the Theatre
Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.
P.J. du Toit. 1988. Amateurtoneel in Suid-Afrika. Pretoria: Academica
"Schach on plays and plans". 1970. The Pretoria News 16 July.
Scenaria (120), January 1991.
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