Leslie French

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

Leslie French. He 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 and was educated at the London School of Choristers. Started in theatre on December 14, 1914, 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 through 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.

In 1968 he directed A Midsummer Night's Dream at Stockwell's Open-Air Theatre, Oxford; A Winter's Tale at Maynardville and The Merchant of Venice in Port Elizabeth and was presented with the 1820 Settlers Memorial Celebrations medal in 1970 in recognition of his contribution to Art and Culture in Port Elizabeth.

He has also been awarded the Andre Huguenot Memorial Medal for his outstanding contribution to classical theatre in South Africa.

His one-man show has been a great success in England, America and South Africa and was last performed at the NICO on February 28, 1993.

TV appearances in London included Silence in Henry IV, Part II, The Judge in Crown Court and Noddy in The Singing Detective.

In 1990 Mr French returned to direct Love's Labour Lost at Maynardville.




Theatre programme from the 1993 production of An Evening with Leslie French.

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