Leslie French

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Leslie French (1904-1999) was a British actor, singer, dancer and director for stage, TV and film.

Leslie FrenchHe started his acting career as a boy in the Ben Greet Players and went on to star in Lillian Bayliss' Old Vic productions and was famous for his performances in the open air theatre in Regent's Park in London.

Born Leslie Richard French on 23 April, 1904 in Bromley, Kent in 1904 and was educated at the London School of Choristers. Started in theatre as a boy in the Ben Greet Players and went on to star in Lillian Bayliss' Old Vic productions and also celebrated for his work with the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park from 1952 onwards. Famous in England for is portrayals of Shakespearean characters such as "Puck" and "Ariel" (he was the nude model for the statue of Ariel on the facade of the BBC's Broadcasting House in London) and his film work - roles in The Scapegoat (1959) , The Singer Not the Song (1961), Death in Venice (1971) , etc, and many TV dramas and series.

Contributions to South African theatre

French’s chief connection with South African theatre came though his close relationship with Cecilia Sonnenberg and René Ahrenson’s Maynardville Open-air Theatre, a venue he helped found and develop, also directing the first production there. He was later also instrumental in the establishment of the Mannville Open-air Theatre in Port Elizabeth in association with Helen Mann.

He went on to visit South Africa regularly between 1956 and 1971, to work for various companies, beginning with The Tempest for the Johannesburg Reps in 1956, starring David Crichton, and going on to act in and especially direct many other memorable Shakespeare productions for companies and venues such as Maynardville, Mannville, The Johannesburg Reps, and PACOFS (in conjunction with the Bloemfontein Shakespeare Circle).

The plays he directed and/or appeared in include:

As You Like It (Maynardville, 1954),

The Winter's Tale,

A Midsummer Night's Dream,

The Taming of the Shrew,


The Tempest (Johannesburg Reps, 1956; PACOFS/the Bloemfontein Shakespeare Circle, 1970).

In January 1963 he received the Key to the City of Cape Town in recognition of his services to Cape Town’s cultural and educational life.




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