Actress with a gift for high comedy
Monday 05 June 2006
Moira Redmond, actress: born Bognor Regis, West Sussex 14 July 1928; married first Anthony Hughes (marriage dissolved), second 1963 Herbert Wise (marriage dissolved 1972); died London 16 March 2006.
A versatile actress of striking auburn-haired beauty, with a honeyed voice of considerable range, Moira Redmond had a particular gift for the demands of high comedy, to which she brought an impressively stylish aplomb. Her ill-health prevented audiences from seeing her tackle some of the rewarding roles - Lady Bracknell would surely have been among them - which might have come her way later in her career.
Her interest in the theatre began as a child at school in Bognor Regis. Redmond made her professional début playing walk-on parts in Peter Brook's revelatory production of Titus Andronicus (Stratford-upon-Avon, 1957) with Laurence Olivier; she also understudied Olivier's then wife Vivien Leigh as the abuser Lavinia and had many an uneasy moment when the wayward star occasionally went missing on the production's European tour before its London run (Stoll, 1957).
By way of marked contrast her next West End appearance was in Agatha Christie's tepid Verdict (Strand, 1958) after which she played a remarkably wide variety of major roles in leading repertory theatres, including Nottingham and Leatherhead.
For the enterprising Pop Theatre led by Frank Dunlop at the 1966 Edinburgh Festival, Redmond was part of an intriguingly varied company that included Jane Asher, Jim Dalt, Laurence Harvey and Cleo Laine; she was a feisty Hermione, memorably forgiving in the statue scene, in The Winter's Tale (later in London at the Cambridge, 1966) and equally telling as Helen in The Trojan Women.
A highlight of Redmond's career was her Queen Victoria in Edward Bond's Early Morning (Royal Court, 1968), in which she took every opportunity to mine the vein of black comedy in a fantasia positing a lesbian relationship between Redmond's Queen and Marianne Faithfull's Florence Nightingale. She appeared too in another 1960s darkly comic classic, Peter Barnes's The Ruling Class as the venal Lady Claire Gurney (Nottingham Playhouse, 1969).
Redmond's comedic skill shone in a rare revival of "Saki" (H.H. Munro)'s only comedy, The Watched Pot (Mermaid, 1970), as Mrs Peter Vulpy, a widow with often a predatory glint in her eye. As the sleekly upwardly mobile Grainne in a wonderful but short-lived Hugh Leonard, Dublin-set comedy The Patrick Pearse Motel, she was hilariously funny.
Her range could also extend to the tragic miner's wife at the heart of D.H. Lawrence's The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd (Leatherhead, 1971) and it made her a natural choice as a member of the Actors' Company formed by, among others, Ian McKellen when she returned to comedy with a delightfully randy matron in Feydeau's Ruling The Roost (Edinburgh, 1972) and displayed a contrasted fierce concentration in Iris Murdoch's The Three Arrows (Arts, Cambridge, 1972).
Returning to repertory, Redmond had a splendid run of parts at the Bristol Old Vic in 1975, playing the harassed Sister McPhee in Peter Nichols's The National Health, a glittering Ariadne Utterword in Heartbreak House (she was a superb Shavian) and, outstandingly, in Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus, as Muriel, frustrated dragon-wife of the play's central erring doctor.
After a period concentrating primarily on television work Redmond returned in fine form to the theatre in Alan Ayckbourn's production of his large-scale A Chorus of Disapproval (National Theatre, 1985) set against the background of a local operatic society's production of The Beggar's Opera.
Early in her career Redmond was groomed as a "starlet", with appearances in inconsequential movies including Violent Moment (1958) and Doctor in Love (1960). She had better roles in more interesting films - a good cameo in John Huston's flawed Freud (1962) and a juicy comedy part in A Shot in the Dark (1964) - but her late film career offered her, like most actresses of her age then, little of genuine quality.
On television it was quite another story. Redmond made countless smaller-screen appearances, guesting in virtually all the leading series of her era - The Avengers, Danger Man, No Hiding Place, Paul Temple, Sherlock Holmes, I, Claudius, Nanny and The Sweeney.
Some of the most prestigious series had impressive contributions from Redmond - Monica in the rarity of Noël Coward's Post Mortem in "The Jazz Age" series (1968), a mischievously luscious Duchess of Cleveland in The First Churchills (1969), a notably subtle and moving portrayal of the King's mistress Alice Keppel in Edward VII (1975), and a commanding Duchesse d'Abrantes in Prometheus: the life of Balzac (1976).
Her final significant appearance was in the supporting role of Nessy, touchingly played, in the popular television version of Catherine Cookson's The Wingless Bird (1997).
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