Fritha Goodey

Talented stage and screen actress tipped as a 'star in the making'
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The Independent Online

Fritha Jane Goodey, actress: born Kingston upon Thames, Surrey 23 October 1972; died London c8 September 2004.

Fritha Goodey, who was found dead on Wednesday morning, was an actress of immense beauty, charm and talent who, since the beginning of her short career, had won the admiration of her peers. Wider fame had yet to come; but it indubitably would have. Only those who saw her and worked with her can know what a loss her death is to the theatre she loved. Wherever she went, casting directors, producers and fellow actors murmured the same thing: "A star in the making."

Born in Kingston upon Thames in 1972, Fritha Goodey spent her childhood in Teddington. It was when, at 16, she went to Richmond College to take an A-level in Theatre Studies that she determined to become an actress. She auditioned and sailed into the London Academy of the Arts (Lamda), but before she could take up her place she had already begun to suffer the symptoms of anorexia.

Only a short time into her first year at drama school, she was forced by her perilous drop in weight to leave the course. There followed a period in hospital. She nearly died. Her mother, Sally, persistent, patient and passionate, nursed her back to a kind of health. Fritha lost three years of her life. There was no cure - only the slow and painstaking crawl towards some kind of containment of the illness.

Thus began the dark and sometimes desperate parallel existence that Fritha Goodey went on enduring and fighting for the rest of her life. And it is in this secret struggle that Goodey showed her finest self: she was not only beautiful and talented, she was immeasurably brave.

She went back to drama school - "I adored Lamda," she once told me - and made a wide circle of loyal and loving friends. It was there, in her second year, that she acted in the workshop version of Remembrance of Things Past. Enchanted by her talent, imagination and emotional range, in 2000, when the play was being cast at the National Theatre, I told Harold Pinter (who had written the original screenplay) I wanted her in the part of Odette de Crécy - the young woman who so intoxicates Charles Swann that she becomes his obsession.

By this time, she had already appeared in Mark Ravenhill's Some Explicit Polaroids (1999) directed by Max Stafford-Clark. This production went on a long tour - she coped with total professionalism with all the exigencies of digs, dingy bedsits and travelling - and finally took her to the West End. She worked again in 2002 for Stafford-Clark and Joint Stock Theatre Company in She Stoops to Conquer and as Mrs Garrick in April de Angelis's A Laughing Matter at the Lyttelton Theatre.

A film in South Africa followed. "What did you do, Frith?" a friend asked. "Hanging from parachutes - you know the kind of thing," she replied, with that wonderful wide-mouthed grin. The fee enabled her to buy her own flat, of which she was very proud. She went to live there alone, determined to have a normal life.

Other film parts followed: About a Boy (2002) with Hugh Grant and the not yet released Alfie with Jude Law, and increasingly work in television. Most striking perhaps was her role as a beautiful young woman who talked kindly to the afflicted boy in Stephen Poliakoff's The Lost Prince (2003): she understood helpless suffering only too well.

In 2001, when the Jerwood Workshop was set up, Fritha Goodey was among the first actors to be invited to join. For the next three years, we were privileged to see her working in all manner of parts from Brecht to Shakespeare. Most wonderful was her last workshop which was devoted to Ibsen: hilarious as a gross and wild-eyed troll; laughing as she danced in a Norwegian jig in heavy boots to the tune of a fiddler. She finally played an incomparable Mrs Elvsted in a scene from Hedda Gabler (with Kirsty Bushell), where, sinking slowly against the back of a chair, her hair falling about her shoulders, she cried out, "I have done only what I had to do."

Some tenuous thread of confidence snapped in her during her recent rehearsals of Terence Rattigan's Man and Boy, playing opposite David Suchet and directed by Maria Aitken. She felt assailed by the fear that she could not do the part. She had set herself perfectionist standards. It was as though, if she could not succeed, it would break her heart. So she broke it herself.

There was a moment as Odette de Crécy when she walked around the stage, her back to the audience, swaying slightly while the Vinteuil sonata played. She turned to Swann and smiled. Harold Pinter, standing at the back of the stalls with the actor David Rintoul during a technical rehearsal, watched her, her head tilted on one side, her fan rustling against her shoulder. Pinter murmured his own stage directions: "Swann falls madly in love." And as they watched Fritha Goodey on stage - graceful, willowy, exquisite - David Rintoul replied, "And who wouldn't?"

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