Obituary: David Kelsey

"Oh, no, Kels. I don't think so - a bit over the top." David Kelsey, actor, director, playwright and adaptor, had such a relish for the stage as a dramatic medium - such a feeling for the theatre theatrical - that it was almost instinctive for him to attempt a boldness of gesture, a roundness of delivery and a robustness of manner which by today's standards struck an altogether too actorly note.

Kelsey had the build, the voice, the presence and the personality: but in a theatrical era coming swiftly under the influence of television, the opportunities to strut and fret were diminishing nightly, and they came mainly in musicals.

It was in that old warhorse, Robert and Elizabeth (Lyric, 1964), written by Ron Grainer (tunes) and Ronald Millar (words), that Kelsey probably had his finest hour, or at least his most widely remembered, since he was to spend most of his career running various reps in the heyday of the subsidised post-war revival of the repertory movement.

He played Mr Macready, Kean's great rival, and some of us suspected that in the timing of the famous Macready pause Kelsey out-paused Macready himself. And why not? If one could not go over the top as Mr Macready in a West End musical as "emotional" as the Millar-Grainer hit about the secret passion of two great poets, Elizabeth Moulton-Barrett and Robert Browning, what was the theatre for?

In Wendy Toye's production Kelsey sensed that the atmosphere was ripe for ripeness. So he let rip. One night, however, the interpreter of the master of the stagy pause was himself given pause - indeed everybody was - when a spectator in the royal box at the Lyric interposed his own critical comment.

It came while Kelsey's Macready was questioning the quality of a play Browning had written. When Keith Michell's Browning insisted that it was "a good play" and Macready contradicted him, an American voice barked from the outer darkness: "It is a good play!"

Such unexpected support for the poet's dramaturgy created a distraction for several minutes since the spectator repeatedly contradicted Macready's criticism until a member of the stage staff went up to the playgoer, who promptly left.

Had Kelsey himself inadvertently incited the incident during the run of his previous West End show, a short-lived, intimate revue which satirised American values and attitudes? Seven-Bob-A-Buck, which had transferred from Hampstead to the Comedy, may have got the bird from the critics for the crudeness of its satire, but Kelsey had stolen a notice or two.

"Paying customers, if any, will find what pleasure they can in . . . the well-bred, languid embarrassments of David Kelsey," said one; and "David Kelsey strikes a succession of stage-English attitudes which are often very funny," wrote another.

Widely respected in the profession as a versatile and sympathetic character actor - ranging from Malvolio, Archie Rice and Sherlock Holmes to Trigorin in The Seagull, Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady and Crocker-Harris in The Browning Version, Kelsey also held posts as resident director at the Northcott, Exeter, the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, the Royal, Northampton, and the Marlowe, Canterbury, and helped to found a touring troupe, Baroque Theatre Company, which gave work to newly qualified actors and technicians.

No one understood better the value of the largely under- rated reps, and Kelsey seems to have worked as actor or director at most of them, from Pitlochry to Plymouth, Bromley to Basingstoke, Manchester to Newbury. In a recent tour of The Boy Friend he played the redoubtable Percy and staged a tour of his own musical about Elsie and Doris Waters called Gert 'n' Daisy.

Other writings ranged from a stagy vehicle for the late - and some said great - Sonia Dresdel as a snarling elocutionist, Game for Two or More Players (Farnham, 1973) to an improbable funeral-parlour farce, Now Here's a Funny Thing! (Exeter, 1976); but if his pieces rarely struck gold they were never less than actable, especially for players unafraid to go "over the top".

Among more recent touring productions were revivals of the American musical Barnum, Priestley's I Have Been Here Before, and the pantomime Cinderella (King's, Edinburgh).

Adam Benedick

David Kelsey, actor, director and playwright: born 16 June 1932; died 4 April 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect