John Ramsdale (1937-) was an actor.
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John Ramsdale was born in Athlone in May 1937, and in 1943, when John was still five years old, the family moved from Athlone to Salt River and in 1944 he was enrolled in St Luke’s Anglican Primary school in Cecil Road (where he had his first experience of acting) and continued his high school learning at Wesley Methodist School (standard 6), Wesley College (stds 7and 8), a Methodist institution situated in Durham Road and concluded his schooling at Harold Cressy (the final matric years, 1955 and 1956).
He began his working in 1955, when he was appointed to a clerical position at the Rex Trueform Clothing factory and in 1958 he began working for Howard Brukman printing works in Maitland, where he stayed for 11 years. In 1970 he started working at Zonnebloem College as a bursar, a College that functioned under the auspices of the Anglican Church. This was the start of his long relationship with the church, one set to continue for the rest of his working life.
Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance
John's first stage appearance came at the age of 13 years in St Luke’s Church hall in Salt River , when he played a young character called "Vincent Scratton" in an (unnamed) English comedy, with Jocelyn Barker, the wife of the vicar, as his mother.
He became a member of The Drama Centre in District Six, and in 1954 he and other members attended an historic meeting with Dame Sybil Thorndike and her husband Lewis Casson at St Phillips School, District Six.
His many included:
"Vincent Scratton" in the aforementioned (unidentified) English comedy (St Luke’s Church hall in Salt River, 1950), " David the Shepherd" in At the Well of Bethlehem (Mona Swann) at the Cape Town City Hall (produced by the Marion Institute, December 1960); "Mr Pinchas " in The Vigil (Ladislas Fodor) at the Labia Theatre (1962); "Senna the poet" in the 1960 production of Julius Caesar (Shakespeare), directed by Robert Mohr; cast member in The Drama Centre's Macbeth (Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, 1961); "Launcelot Gobbo" in The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare) at Maynardville (1963); various roles in Hamlet, including the "grave digger", and "Puck" in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Maynardville, 1964); cast member of Noah by André Obey in the Am-Dram Festival (Camps Bay Civic Centre, 1967); . "The valet" in The Blacks, directed by Charlotte du Toit at the Claremont Civic Centre (1968);
John was the stage manager of the St Luke’s Theatre Guild production of The Late Edwina Black (Dinner and Morum), staged at St Luke's Hall. Directed by Gus Jansen with a cast that included his wife Mabel Daniels.
He was seen in Robert Mohr's modern-dress production of Julius Caesar at the Little Theatre at UCT, Norm and Ahmed at the Baxter Theatre in 1977 and he performed in A Flea in her Ear at The Space in 1978. He also had a role in Scathkadie the Sorceress.
The information below has been supplied by Laurence Jacobs, August, 2020.
• In St Georges Cathedral in the seventies John and fellow actors followed on from the tradition of the mystery plays which were performed in the middle ages. The travelling actors performed on carts which came to be known as pageant wagons. The presentation by The Centre, a cultural body associated with the Cathedral, of ‘The Fall and Redemption of Man ‘recreated this tradition. The play was written by John Bowen and directed by Ronald France. The 13 strong cast included Michael Drin, Bill Curry and Henry Goodman. John played the part of one of the shepherds. It was also staged by the University Theatre Stellenbosch in the H.B. Thom Theatre in April 1973, directed by Robin Malan with Marthinus Basson. • The medieval cycles or collection of plays were known as miracles or moralities. It arose out of the attempt by the medieval Church to portray the story of Christ’s life to the congregation and formed the origins of modern drama. The church services were all in Latin and stories such as the nativity were told in the vernacular. Under the auspices of The Centre, Ian Ferguson’s ‘Nativity’ directed by Rosalie van der Gucht captured the essence of these plays. It was the first performance in South Africa in 1975 with design by Peter Krummeck. Heaven is on the left, hell on the right and earth in the centre and these are clearly marked. Richard Manuel played God who sends Gabriel, played by John, back and forth between heaven and earth. • In 1977 Rosalie van de Gucht directed an Imps Drama Workshop’s production of ‘Living and Laughter’ by Jo Dunstan and was presented by The Centre. It was a compilation of the works of Shakespeare, taking the Seven Ages of Man speech as a framework. A large cast played several different parts. Owen Williams wrote: ‘John Ramsdale was a jaunty Gobbo, a robust Flute and a broadly funny Clown.’ • John played in ‘Norm and Ahmed’ by Alexander Buzo in September 1977 with Ronald Francis and Henry Goodman directing. In ‘Norm and Ahmed’ John plays the part of Ahmed, a Pakistani student who is in a confrontation with an Australian bigot played by Ronald Francis. • In October 1977 John again played a Pakistani in Geraldine Aron’s play, ‘Mr Mc Conkey’s Suitcase. ‘It is a one act comedy-drama with a cast of eight. It is set in a London boarding house in which a mysterious man has dies. John plays one of the tenants, Abdul Solanki. • John took part in a play reading of Paul Slabolepsky’s ‘Renovations’ at what was then called the Nico Malan Rehearsal Room. Slabolepsky’s wrote his first play ‘Renovations’ in 1979. It was presented as a play-reading at CAPAB Drama. • To mark the opening of the Nave in St George’s Cathedral in June 1980 there was a production of ‘The Zeal of thy House’ a play by Dorothy Sayers which is about the building of the choir of Canterbury Cathedral in the twelfth century by a French architect, William of Sens. Cosmo Pieterse and Bill Curry play the parts of angels. John played the part of Simon the workman. • In 1981 John appeared in the Peter Krummeck production of ‘Scathkadie the Sorceress’ and played the part of the sorceres’s dragon, Frumbillo, the Puckish, Shakespearean-quoting diminutive dragon. The sorceress was played by Trix Pienaar. • John played in the musical ‘The Fantasticks’ which opened at the Theatre Downstairs in Rondebosch. His part was that of an actor that specialises in death scenes. (Date Unknown) • John took up a position in the Diocesan office of the Anglican Church, known as Church House, and stayed there from 1982 to 2002, retiring at the age of 65. • During 1985 he assisted Rosalie van der Gucht in a production she directed of ‘The Davidson Affair’ at the Cathedral . • At St Georges Cathedral, La Nativite du Seigneur (The Birth of the Lord) by Olivier Messiaen was performed on 17 December 2000 by Ashley Grote, organ scholar elect of Kings College, Cambridge. Each of the nine fold sections of the work was followed by poems by Bishop John B Taylor and John was asked to read these. • Tronji is a CG animated TV series and a multiplayer online game, produced in the United Kingdom and aimed at children aged six to eight years. It was produced by Ragdoll Productions which was a part of Pinewood Studios. John played the part of a vicar in ‘Wedding Dress’ in 2001 which was shot at Zonnebloem and as builder in a segment of Tronji called ‘Cement’ in 2007 • John appeared in the Feydea farce ’A Flea in her Ear’ at The New Space. (Date unknown) • He was on the Board of Trustees of The Space and was present in 2008 when it was decided to close the theatre. • In July 2017 at St Patrick’s Church, Grahamstown John performed a dramatic reading on the life and death of Dietrich Bonheoffer as told by his biographer Mary Bosanquet. The reading was under the auspices of Spiritfest 2017 which was a festival fringe event. The purpose of Spiritfest was to celebrate the arts in the context of the Christian faith. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a young pastor, theologian and a founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany. While imprisoned by the Nazis in the final days of the Second World War in Tegel prison in Berlin, he wrote a morning prayer. Shortly after writing this, he was executed for his part in the plot to kill Hitler.
E-mail correspondence from Laurence Jacobs, August, 2020.
Scathkadie the Sorceress programme notes, 1981.
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